Keeping the roads of Afghanistan safe, one IED at a time

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan – The sol­diers of Com­bined Task Force Arrow­head may be the newest kids on the block, in Region­al Com­mand South, Afghanistan, but they’ve got an expe­ri­enced team on their side where find­ing impro­vised explo­sive devices is con­cerned.

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A Buf­fa­lo Mine Resis­tant Ambush Pro­tect­ed Clear­ance Vehi­cle from the 883rd Engi­neer Bat­tal­ion extends its robot­ic arm dur­ing a demon­stra­tion of its abil­i­ties at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Lag­man, Feb. 13, 2012.
Source: NATO
Click to enlarge

The 883rd Engi­neer Bat­tal­ion, out of Win­ston-Salem, N.C., has been at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Lag­man in Zab­ul province since the mid­dle of 2011 and they are ready to lend a hand in the search for IEDs.

“They [Com­bined Task Force Arrow­head] have pla­toons that need to learn the equip­ment and the roads out here,” said Staff Sgt. Gre­go­ry Lau­tieri of Coven­try, R.I., a pla­toon sergeant with the 883rd Engi­neers. “So they have a cou­ple [sol­diers] each mis­sion that jump in with us and ride and learn how to oper­ate the vehi­cles out here because they just got into coun­try. We’re just show­ing them the ropes so that in two weeks to a month from now they can run their own route clear­ance mis­sions.”

That mis­sion is fair­ly cut and dry.

“Our job is to clear the routes of road­side bombs [and] IEDs in order for mil­i­tary con­voys and the civil­ian traf­fic to be able to trav­el on the roads and not get hurt,” said Lau­tieri.

For­tu­nate­ly for those who trav­el the main sup­ply routes through­out Afghanistan on a fre­quent basis, the 883rd not only has the right tools for the mis­sion, but the right peo­ple as well. Peo­ple like Sgt. Steven Har­rel­son, a truck com­man­der with the 883rd Engi­neers, who finds his job grat­i­fy­ing.

“It’s a [reward­ing] job being able to go out and clear the route for peo­ple,” said Har­rel­son. “It’s reward­ing when you’re able to pull them [IEDs] up out of the ground and blow them up before they can do their dam­age.”

The 883rd’s arse­nal of tools include ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar vehi­cles such as the Husky met­al detect­ing and mark­ing vehi­cle — a mine pro­tect­ed, vehi­cle with a mount­ed mine detec­tion sys­tem which is capa­ble of find­ing and mark­ing metal­lic explo­sive haz­ards such as deep buried IEDs — and the Buf­fa­lo mine pro­tect­ed clear­ance vehi­cle, a 37-ton com­bat ready, mine resis­tant ambush pro­tect­ed 6x6 truck designed specif­i­cal­ly for route clear­ance of IEDs, land mines, and oth­er explo­sive haz­ards.

“What it does is, when we find an IED, we use this arm to dig the IEDs up so the [explo­sive ord­nance dis­pos­al] guys can blow them up,” said Har­rel­son.

Easy as that sounds, Har­rel­son explains that it is not as sim­ple as rolling up to an IED and pulling it up out of the ground.

“You can’t just go in and just dig it up,” said Har­rel­son. “You have to be able to dig around it and be able to iden­ti­fy it, see what it is, and [then] pull it up.”

“You have a lot of dif­fer­ent things that are going on,” explains Har­rel­son. “You also have to talk with your pla­toon sergeant and pla­toon leader [while you are dig­ging the IED up]; let them know what you’re see­ing and what’s going on around you. It can be nerve wrack­ing, but once you’ve trained enough, like we’ve been doing over and over, it gets to be like clock­work.”

No mat­ter how many times the 883rd digs up the enemy’s hand­i­work, there is noth­ing ever easy about approach­ing an IED. It’s a dan­ger­ous job that leaves a lot to the unknown, which most engi­neers seem to agree is the most dif­fi­cult part of their job.

“We’ve been trained to do what we know when we find [an IED], when we see it,” Har­rel­son said, “but the fact is we don’t know if we’re going to see it, or when we’re going to see it. So basi­cal­ly the time pri­or to find­ing the IEDs is the worst part because you don’t know if you’re going to find it or it’s going to find you.”

Of course, even when they do find it first, approach­ing IEDs, is no joke.

“That’s… about the worse part; going up to it,” Har­rel­son explains.

At the end of the day, the 883rd has cleared anoth­er route some­where in Afghanistan, but that’s not to say it will stay that way. Route clear­ance is a dif­fi­cult, nev­er-end­ing job.

“It’s not easy,” Lau­tieri states. “It’s a lot of long days and it’s just non-stop. The good thing is we have four dif­fer­ent pla­toons that go out every day. We get two days to recoup, get our vehi­cles and equip­ment back up and then go back out again.”

And so the iron men of the 883rd con­tin­ue their mis­sion to keep the roads of Afghanistan open to all that trav­el them. “Com­ing back to any FOB or COB, just get­ting rest is all we need to go out and do it again,” Lau­tieri stat­ed.

Sto­ry by Sgt. Christo­pher McCul­lough
3rd Stryk­er Brigade Com­bat Team
2nd Infantry Divi­sion

Source:
Allied Com­mand Oper­a­tions
NATO

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