CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Since March 2003, coalition forces have seized thousands of unauthorized small arms through security patrols and urban search operations.
Marines and civilians with Ammunition Platoon, Supply Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), are redeploying these weapon systems into the Iraqi Army, turning insurgent resources into coalition assets.
“We need to arm our allies,” said Warrant Officer Robert P. Smith, officer-in-charge of Camp Taqaddum’s Ammunition Supply Point (ASP). “We not only need to train them on our tactics, we need to arm them with what they need to fight the insurgents.”
Thousands of weapons, mostly AK-47 assault rifles, have been brought to the ASP where a team of specialists inspects the recovered items to determine which are still operational.
“As units conduct patrols, they come up with unauthorized weapons that eventually come to one of these collection points,” said Gunnery Sgt. Mark W. Scarlata, electro-optics maintenance chief for Maintenance Company. “Our primary function is to sort the serviceable and unserviceable, authorized and unauthorized (for use by the Iraqi Security Forces).”
To determine which weapons are operational, the team forms an assembly line with each individual conducting a separate function check. The team can make basic repairs on location, such as changing a pair of hand guards or replacing a bolt assembly, said Scarlata, a 38-year-old from Lakeland, Fla.
Some of the weapons coming to the ASP are unsalvageable. Faulty trigger mechanisms, for example, commonly keep weapons from redeploying. Some weapons never have a chance for redeployment. Homemade mortar tubes and rocket-propelled grenade launchers are destroyed along with the assault rifles, shotguns and pistols that are beyond repair.
“We’ve got a good crew here, everyone’s playing their part,” added Scarlata. He refers to his team as a “hodge-podge” of Marines, some of whom have military occupational specialties as motor transportation operators, administration specialists and legal clerks.
“We give them the rundown of what to look for, and with the seven (small-arms repairmen) we have here, we’re not running into any problems,” said Scarlata.
Three of the seven specialists are civilian contractors with prior military service.
“I never expected to be here, but I decided to come out because I knew I had something to contribute,” said Chris Piepgrass, a 50-year-old from Springfield, Ore., who retired after 22 years in the Air Force. “It feels good to be a part of this.”
One of the small arms repairmen is a former Marine who is getting his first taste of a deployment to Iraq.
“I’m just doing my part to help out, turning some of these guns around and getting them into the right hands,” said Adam G. Garner, a Robbins, N.C., native. He served in the Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005.
What Garner might lack in deployment experience he makes up for in his knowledge of small arms.
He rummaged through a bin of weapons and randomly pulled out pistols and shotguns and at a glance, described their features - even where they were manufactured.
“I’ve seen Egyptian, German and Czechoslovakian Mausers,” said Garner, referring to some of the rifles he’s seen since the weapons started coming in. “Some of these (AK-47s) are more than 30 years old. They’re fairly indestructible,” he said as he gestured toward the assembly line.
Camp Taqaddum is not the only base contributing to the redeployment of seized weapons. The Marine Corps has also established collection points in Al Asad and Fallujah.
“This is going to help arm the Iraqi Army with what is authorized, giving them more of a starting point than they already have,” said Scarlata. He added that once the IA is properly trained, they can assume responsibility for the security of Iraq.