1st FSSG combat engineers sweep for mines in western Iraq

27 May 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright 1st Marine Logistics Group

In response to mine blasts that have injured Marines and disabled vehicles along a highway near here, 1st Force Service Support Group combat engineers swept the area for mines May 16, 2004.

At least five vehicles have been damaged by mines in western Iraq in the last two months. The most recent two were hit within a week of each other in the same area not far from the base.

Marines of Engineer Company, Combat Service Support Battalion 7, had swept this particular area before, but believed that anti-coalition forces had gone back and laid more mines. None were discovered.

After the manual sweep failed to locate any anti-personnel mines, the Marines brought in an armored D-7 bulldozer to find anti-tank mines, which are often buried farther down in the ground.

The company decided to start using the bulldozer as backup after one of its Marines was injured in a mine blast a week earlier, while doing road work at a dam near here.

Pfc. Donny L. Schwab suffered a burst eardrum and was medically evacuated to the United States after the gravel-filled dump truck he was driving hit a deeply buried, anti-tank mine.

Another dump truck hit a second mine a few minutes later. Both trucks had to be towed back to the camp, said 1st Lt. Michael L. Robinson, who was in charge of the latest operation.

The engineers had already swept the area and discovered several mines from what appeared to be a decade-old mine field, said Robinson, a 29-year-old native of Montgomery, Texas.

Such latent minefields are a problem all over the world, though Iraq ranks as one of the most affected countries, according to the Electronic Mine Information Network's Web site.

A six-week study done in mid-2003 and covering seven governorates of Iraq -- approximately 40 percent of the country -- identified 394 victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance, according to the network.

After finishing their sweep, the Marines turned the area over to Iraqi construction workers, who leveled and paved the intersection in hopes of preventing insurgents from placing more mines.

In the long run, it's better for the Iraqis to do the work themselves, Robinson said.

"We're not going to be here forever. It's going to be their road. It helps us to help them help themselves," he said.
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