View Full Version : Impregnable Iraqi bank vaults were no match for 'Little Guy'

07-12-03, 07:14 AM
Impregnable Iraqi bank vaults were no match for 'Little Guy'

By David Hasemyer

July 11, 2003

ABOARD THE TARAWA It seemed an odd request for the Marines' ordnance disposal team: blast their way into two bank vaults in Nasiriyah in southeast Iraq.

But it was an urgent plea from the commander of Camp Pendleton's 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Local residents were massing outside the banks, turning angry and trying to get their hands on the cash inside. If they got the stash, it wouldn't be available for coalition forces to help restore government functions such as police and fire service.

"We had to rob the bank to save the money," recalled Col. Thomas Waldhauser.

So he called on Master Sgt. Greg Carroll and his ordnance disposal team, whose usual job was to destroy captured Iraqi munitions.

"This was something different," Carroll said in an interview aboard this warship.

Carroll and his unit are among the sailors and Marines of the Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group returning home from service in the northern Arabian Sea and off Iraq.

The Tarawa and the amphibious ships Rushmore and Duluth are expected to arrive at Camp Pendleton early tomorrow to drop off the Marines and their gear before heading to San Diego on Sunday.

Talking in the Tarawa's hangar deck, Carroll said his unit found that Iraqi looters had tried to blast into the vaults, creating small, jagged holes in the sides.

"The insides of the banks were still smoldering when we got there," he said.

That would later pose an unanticipated danger to Carroll and his men.

Carroll said he was impressed by the stout construction they encountered in the banks. "I mean, this was a vault, not a safe," he said.

With concrete walls that were 2 feet thick and reinforced with rebar, the vault presented a challenge, even to the man who had spent his Marine Corps career blowing things up.

"Man, those walls were thick," Carroll said in admiration.

The team set about stringing explosives around the door, enough C-4 to bring down an old Las Vegas hotel. Well, almost.

However, Carroll suddenly realized that while he was wiring the explosive with detonator cord, his feet were getting hot.

"I looked down and I'm standing on this smoldering rubble and I'm holding explosives," he said.

"It probably wasn't the smartest things I've ever done."

Finally, it was time to blow the door.


The blast rocked the entire building. When the dust settled, however, the vault door was still intact, almost mocking Carroll.

"It did nothing, not even put a dent in the door," he said.

A member of Carroll's team, Petty Officer 3rd Class A.J. Tyler, gave the hole in the wall made by looters a second look. It was not much bigger than a basketball.

At 5-foot-3 and 120 pounds, the Navy corpsman looks like a high school freshman, especially next to the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Carroll.

"Sergeant, I can crawl through there," said Tyler, who was assigned to the unit in case emergency medical services were needed.

So, after cutting some ragged rebar, Tyler wriggled though the hole dressed in his chemical suit and gas mask to protect him from the smoke in the vault.

Inside, he was stunned to find a mountain of money, more than $14 million in Iraqi dinars. The bills were stacked 7 feet high along one wall.

"I just stood and looked up at it, there was so much," Tyler said.

After a moment, he started handing the bundles of bills through the hole to Marines who collected the money and turned it over to military civil-affairs authorities. The money was later used to help fund city services.

Tyler did the same limbo routine through a small hole in the second bank's vault.

When recounting the story, Waldhauser, the unit's colonel, praised Carroll's team and simply called Tyler "The Little Guy."

And that's a compliment from The Big Guy.

David Hasemyer: (619) 542-4583; david.hasemyer@uniontrib.com



Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class A.J. Tyler (front) and Marine Master Sgt. Greg Carroll teamed up to break into two bank vaults in southeast Iraq.