FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- For years, smugglers, Taliban insurgents, and anti-coalition factions have traveled Afghanistan's pot-holed and crumbling roadways with relative impunity.
However, since the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) arrived in-country and began pushing into the Afghan hinterlands, these criminal and terrorist elements have found the going a bit rougher due to the MEU's widespread use of vehicle checkpoints (VCPs).
"We're mainly looking for weapons, large amounts of cash or foreign currency, explosives, anti-coalition propaganda, and basically anything dangerous to us," said Cpl. Seth Doshier, a machine gunner from Cheney, Kansas.
Doshier is assigned to the Combined Anti-Armor Team (CAAT) platoon of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, the MEU's ground combat element, and over the course of the past three months, his platoon has set up the bulk of the VCP's in the MEU's areas of operation.
Jingle trucks (transport trucks with a narrow wheel base that are usually adorned with colorful stickers and chimes), motorcycles, taxis, horse and mule-drawn carts, pick-ups, and even bicycles are stopped at the VCPs and carefully scrutinized.
For the CAAT Marines, they usually set up their VCPs with a two-Humvee section with one machine-gun vehicle providing cover for the crew of the second vehicle who conduct the actual traffic stop and search.
"We'll usually pull all the vehicle passengers out and search them one at a time," said Cpl. Dan Dimosa, of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., another CAAT Marine. "Then while they're being guarded, the other Marines will search the vehicle and any cargo."
Nothing on the vehicles is left unsearched; the driver's cap, under and behind seats, the cargo bed, undercarriage, engine compartment, and any boxes, bags or containers being carried.
According to the Marines, the Afghans accept the VCPs as a necessary inconvenience if their country has any hope for future peace and stability.
"We've never had a problem during the searches," said Cpl. Steven Miller, of Wallace, W.V., another machine gunner and teammate of Doshier, Dimosa, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian Dessel, a corpsman from Pennsylvania assigned to CAAT.
"When they see us they know what's gonna happen," said Miller. "After all, if they're not doing anything illegal they have nothing to worry about."
More than four thousand vehicles have been stopped and searched since the MEU began conducting combat operations in south-central Afghanistan.
In addition to BLT 1/6, the MEU consists of its Command Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.