14 May 2003 | Army Staff. Sgt. David Bennett

Marine Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists recently recovered three functioning artillery rockets that should give military intelligence officials additional insight into the former Iraqi regime's weaponry.

Marine Capt. Ron Heflin, the I Marine Expeditionary Force's explosive ordnance disposal officer, said the Soviet Free Rocket Over the Ground systems, or FROGs, were left in an Al Hillah playing field after being recovered during the war.

"We were told by the locals they were moved there by the U.S. Army, but we don't know from where they were moved," Heflin said. "Basically, this was in a soccer field. So we had to get them out of there."

The gigantic rockets posed a threat to the local populace, as well as to the Marines' intelligence-gathering mission because looters had begun stealing the wheels of the launcher vehicles supporting the rockets.

The launchers "were pretty much stripped and busted up," Heflin said. "There was no choice but to download them on a low-boy (tractor trailer).

"Could there have been an explosion"? Heflin asked. "Not really. But there was a physical danger. For example, someone could have been pinned if one fell. No, if there was a danger of it going 'bang,' I wouldn't have put them on the truck."

Such a bang would be considerable since each 5,400-pound rocket boasts a 500-pound, high explosive warhead. The 30-foot long rocket has a range of 43 miles.

The rockets will eventually be transported to a site for analysis.

"They will be evacuated to (the city of) Talil for examination," said Marine Lt. Col. Chris Lozano, I MEF's engineering information officer.

Information derived from the rockets eventually will be forwarded to the Explosive Ordnance Detachment Coordination Center and the Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Baghdad.

"We get them periodically," Heflin said, referring of the FROGs. "Right now this a gold mine for us because we have access to all the weapon systems that (Saddam Hussein) had."