Marines and soldiers stop stolen fuel

15 Jul 2003 |

A fuel pipeline that runs west of Karbala, Iraq is a necessity to the people. However, it's also a big attraction to local thieves hoping to steal the fuel.

That's when a group of Army reservists and Marines go to work.

The fuel team from 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, a reserve unit from Green Bay, Wisc., and assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, is primarily responsible for ensuring the pipeline remains operating.

On several occasions, Marines and solders responding to reports from the local population have stopped suspects from siphoning fuel into everything from fuel cans to tanker trucks.

Most of the thieves' efforts are concentrated along the pipeline that holds diesel fuel, said Army Staff Sgt. John D. Craemer, 35, a Green Bay, Wis. resident who is the noncommissioned Officer in charge of the civil military operations center for the battalion.

In mid-June, a patrol came across a substantial pipeline break-in. The Marines and soldiers went out to the pipeline, and drove along it looking for illegal siphoning activity.

"We came up on the first four tanker trucks, and right away we saw six guys take off on foot," Craemer said.

The patrol gave chase in their Humvees until they caught up with the suspects.

"We took off on foot and I caught one of the guys," Craemer said.  "Once we got him in, we searched the trucks, and at that time found weapons."

"We found three AK-47s, four full magazines, three grenades, alcohol and three sticks of dynamite," said Cpl. Aaron, J. Morris, 22, from Camarillo, Calif., a gun truck team leader with Gun Trucks Platoon, Headquarters and Support Company.

The patrol decided to go down the pipeline to check other breaches, leaving a gun truck and Marines with the prisoner, according to Morris.

"At the next hole we saw two trucks, and we stopped them, searched them, and as we were doing that, more trucks started coming by," he said.

The patrol members stopped the tankers and searched them, he said, as more kept coming.

"We'd get some out, and while we were still searching them, another would come by," Morris said.

Meanwhile, back at the first four trucks, some of the suspects who had run away came back and the Marines who had stayed with the tankers, Craemer said.

Up the road where the second set of trucks had been stopped, tankers with stolen fuel kept rolling up, and the Marines and soldiers continued to stop and search them.

"It began to get to be too many, and I called back for MP's," said Craemer.  "We were overwhelmed, and still waiting for the military police, so I said, "let's go 'lights on' and let them know we're here."

The MPs finally arrived and began processing the suspects, said Cpl. David R. Anderson, 23, Bradenton, Fla., a gun truck team leader.

"After three hours of waiting, the MPs came," he said.

"After they came, we flex cuffed the rest of the prisoners and the MPs took them away and impounded the trucks," Morris said.

In the end, the total damage done to the oil stealing operation was quite substantial, Craemer said.

"We ended up seizing seven AK-47s, four grenades, 11 tankers and other vehicles, and 27 personnel," he said.

"Seventeen of the guys were from Al-Felusia," said Craemer, referring to a city near Baghdad where coalition forces have encountered a high level of resistance.

June 23, another patrol took along members of 312th Psychological Operations Company to provide support with loudspeaker systems.

Broadcasting an announcement in Arabic, the Iraqis were told they were surrounded by coalition forces and should immediately drop their weapons.

"This is the first time for psyops," Craemer said.  "They were very effective.  The Marines said as soon as the suspects heard the message on the speaker, all of them just put their hands up and dropped."

"It was pretty good," said Sgt. Trevor Burns a 34-year-old team leader with 312th from Akron, Ohio. "We're going to do it again in a couple days."

The efforts that night nabbed fewer weapons, vehicles and people, but there were several surprises waiting in a Toyota at the second point the patrol manned that night.

In the front seat was a sniper rifle, and in the back seat, a Pulemyot Kalashnikov 7.62mm machine gun wrapped in a towel.

"Once we got the trunk open, there was about 100,000 Iraqi Dinars wrapped in a blanket," said Sgt. Joshua H. Lawson, 22, from Booneville, Miss., a platoon sergeant, Headquarter & Support gun trucks.

"It's an extensive operation, " Craemer said.  "They have a guy to dig up the pipe, a guy to cut it, and the guy with the guns and money was probably in charge.  It's definitely a coordinated effort."

With the seizures from the June 23 patrol, the fuel team patrols headed up by Staff Sgt. Craemer brought their total to 89 suspects detained and 21 tankers, three trucks, two cars, 14 donkey carts, one tractor, two pumps, 15 Kalashnikov-style assault weapons, one bolt-action 7.62mm rifle, one sniper rifle, one PK machine gun, four grenades and other weapons seized.

Despite their successes, the patrols can't be everywhere at once, and a larger force is needed to keep the Iraqi people's fuel secure.

"The oil police used to exist and make sure this stealing didn't happen," Craemer said.  "They're in the process of standing those guys back up right now."

In the meantime, the members of the 432nd CA Brigade's fuel team and the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines will keep the pipelines near Karbala secure.

"What we did was not really a CA mission," said Craemer. "But as part of the fuel team, it's my job to monitor the pipeline and keep it secure."