KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- Everywhere in Afghanistan are reminders of the country's war-ravaged past.
Aboard Kandahar Air Field, which the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) used as a jumping-off point for operations deeper in the country, one of the first sights that greeted the unit's Marines and Sailors was a bullet-scarred mosque.
Also on KAF are the rusting hulks of Soviet-made MiG fighters and Hind attack helicopters, both throwbacks to the Russian invasion of the 1980s. But it is out in the Afghan hinterlands that the prolificacy of the tools of war has been seen and experienced by the MEU's Marines and Sailors.
During its hunt for Taliban and anti-coalition over the past few months, the MEU has devoted much of its time and resources to looking for, finding, and destroying these tools of war.
"Each household is allowed to have one shotgun or rifle, even if it's an AK-47 [fully-automatic Russian assault rifle]," explained Cpl. Dan Dimosa, a machine gunner from Hopewell Junction, New York assigned to the Combined Anti-Armor Team of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines. "We spend a lot of time looking to see if they have more than that or lie about it."
During its time in Afghanistan, the MEU's Marines and Sailors have uncovered a substantial amount of arms and ammunition ranging from brand new assault rifles to vintage bolt-action and breech-loaded rifles dating from the late 19th century. The vast majority of these arms, if fact all of them, are of foreign manufacture, with the most recent being from China and Soviet-bloc countries, and older models from Britain and the United States.
Not all of these weapons are firearms, though. During a recent operation, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Shevokas, a corpsman assigned to Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, the MEU's ground combat element, found a sword wrapped in blankets and buried in a pile of manure. Discussions with village elders revealed the sword was a family heirloom hidden to keep it out of the hands of Taliban marauders who routinely prey on the villagers for food and supplies.
Over the years, villagers supporting the Taliban and other anti-coalition factions have grown particularly adept at hiding weapons. False walls, trap doors, hidden rooms, stacks of hay, and farmer's fields have all been used to stash weapons. Recently, a group of Marines found a 78.7 pound Dshk-38 anti-aircraft machine gun buried intact, tripod and all, deep in the ground outside a farmer's house.
The heavy machine gun, like nearly all the other arms and ammunition found by the MEU was subsequently destroyed by Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians.
"The villagers are real good at hiding stuff," said Sgt. Johnathan Gonzales, a combat engineer with BLT 1/6, "and every day we're getting better at finding it."
Gonzales said that in mid-May during Operation RIO BRAVO, and given the amount of weapons found since then and before, he was right on the money.
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 htpp://www.22meu.usmc.mil.