BLT 1/6 goes door to door looking for weapons and Afghan insurgents

12 Jun 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks

Tucked away in the steep valleys, wadis and draws of a mountainous region in the south-central Afghanistan province of Oruzgan lay hundreds of small compounds and buildings.In each of these is the potential for Taliban and anti-coalition militia to stash weapons and ammunition to carry out attacks against U.S., Afghan National Army, or other coalition forces."The Taliban won't necessarily stay in the villages themselves," explained Maj. Brian Christmas, operations officer for Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, ground combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). "Instead, what they'll do is hide the weapons and then pick them up before an attack. After the attack, they'll hide them again and blend in with the villagers."To deny the enemy these hiding places, BLT 1/6, in conjunction with the other elements of the 22d MEU (SOC), recently launched an aggressive 'cordon and knock' operation with the sole purpose of digging out these caches. The battalion's Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Weapons Companies spread out through the region and descended upon these potential hiding places."In a cordon and search we employ the whole company and attachments," said Capt. Ronald Gouker, of Elkart, Indiana, Alpha Co. commander. "We move in and basically surround the village or area with our rifle platoons. Once the perimeter is established we move in with our searchers from one side of the cordon area to the other, searching everything we come across."These outlaying, or 'cordon,' forces are primarily looking to nab anyone who flees a village upon seeing the search teams approach. They are also provide security over watch and stand ready enter a village should additional search personnel or combat forces are needed.In order to ease the inconvenience to the villagers, many of whom are simple farmers who are guilty only of trying to survive, Gouker and other Marines will meet first with a village elder or leader and explain what is going on. Usually with this individual in the lead, the Marine search teams will go to work.Consisting usually of a search team leader, engineer team, corpsman, and security detail, the search team will methodically check the village from top to bottom and left to right."We're mainly searching for weapons and ammo," said Sgt. Julio Meza-Marquez, a rifleman serving with Alpha Company headquarters element and who provided security for a search team during the operation. "They can usually have one rifle for hunting or self-defense, but anything else they to have permits for."While the searchers usually leave the compounds empty-handed, the end results are worth the effort. In recent weeks, Marines from throughout BLT 1/6 have uncovered 10 machineguns, 85 rifles, several pistols, tens of thousands of rounds of small arms and large-caliber munitions, rockets and mortar rounds of various sizes, nearly 200 explosive devices, and at least 32 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers and 250 RPG rounds.Despite the methodical searching, sometimes blind luck can play a big part. First Sergeant Ernest K. Hoopii, company first sergeant for Charlie Company, related how one of his company's biggest finds came about after a search and when a Marine stepped aside to relieve himself."He just happened to look down, looked near a rock, and started yelling 'there's RPGs here!'." The subsequent dig uncovered more than 75 rocket-propelled grenades.These 'cordon and knock' search operations are an important part of the coalition's effort in Afghanistan to disrupt and deter Taliban and ACM activity threatening the future stability of Afghanistan."Everyone's looking for the huge caches of hundreds of rockets and rifles," said Christmas, emphasizing the importance of the BLT's ongoing operations, "but it's these smaller caches that are the real threat because these are the weapons actively being used against us."In addition to BLT 1/6, the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced) and MEU Service Support Group 22. The unit is Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military operations as Task Force Linebacker with Combined Joint Task Force 76.For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit