KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – “They're in the area guys, they're more active,” said 1st Lt. Justin Vogt as he stood in the early morning darkness and addressed the men he would soon be leading on a patrol. “The fighting season is coming to a close ... they're going to try to [mess] with us and see what they can do before they stop fighting for the winter.”
The morning's mission was simple; drive down a few designated roads and look for improvised explosive devices.
Many people, both military and civilians, would be hoping that they don't find an IED, but not these men.
U.S. Army Spc. Ryan Barber, a native of Rochester, N.Y., who serves as a combat engineer, Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, drives his vehicle- mounted mine detector while conducting a combined arms route clearance mission in Kunar Province, Oct. 15, 2013. The purpose of the mission is to ensure that the roads are clear of improvised explosive devices. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Saslav, 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
“It would be nice to find something,” said Vogt, a platoon leader with Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, “[to] show some successes.”
Vogt and his men comprise a combined arms route clearance operation; a unit comprised of combat engineers, horizontal engineers, explosive ordinance disposal technicians, and infantrymen. It is their job to find and safely remove any IEDs the enemies of Afghanistan may place.
“We're trained to find the IEDs,” said Vogt, a native of Las Vegas, “I have a lot of guys with a lot of experience ... multiple deployments [to] Afghanistan, Iraq ... different locations in Afghanistan; they're used to it ... I trust them. I trust our vehicles, our equipment, they're designed to take a blast, so if we miss something and get hit, it's not catastrophic.”
“I drive the vehicle mounted mine detector,” said Spc. Ryan Barber, combat engineer, Co .A, BSTB, 4th BCT, 10th Mtn. Div., “This vehicle is capable of doing lots of things ... finding underbelly threats and finding deeply buried treats with ground-penetrating radar.”
It is Barber's job to drive up to, and possibly over, suspected IED's.
Barber's vehicle has an additional feature, a giant rake attached to a protruding arm and extending off the back. If he did find what he believed to be a buried IED, the rake would safely dig it up. This would prevent a Soldier from having to do the job by hand. If the device did go off, the rake extends far enough from the back of the heavily armored truck to lessen the blast and protect the driver.
It was still dark when the patrol left the base and began the job of ensuring that the roads were clear. The enemies of Afghanistan will usually try to use the darkness as cover when placing IEDs.
The vehicles drove down the road very slowly. While their vehicles carry electronic jammers which can prevent the enemies of Afghanistan from remotely detonating an IED, the Soldiers were also scanning the area with night vision devices and other means to ensure that they were not driving into an ambush.
Spc. Zachary Price, who serves as a combat engineer, Co .A, BSTB, 4th BCT, 10th Mtn. Div., was driving one of the vehicles.
“We drive around, look for IEDs,” said Price, a native of Maysville, Ky., “[We] check the mountainsides ... make sure that there is no enemy watching us.”
Price, like many of the men in his unit, is married and his wife knows what he is doing over here.
“She knows it's what I want to do so she supports it, but she looks to that phone call when I get back. She doesn't know when we go out,” said Price, “But as long as I talk to her every day, it keeps the nerves under control.”
Driving around and looking for IEDs is exactly what Price wants to do.
“I feel that this is the most important job in the war,” said Price. “[The] IED is the biggest threat against our forces, so if I can go out and mitigate that threat ... that's what I want to do.”
Slowly the patrol searched the various roads in their area looking for IEDs. Some of the roads were in nearby towns, others in the middle of nowhere, but for the Soldiers, it didn't matter. They kept looking for anything out of the ordinary on or near the road.
On one road, the convoy turned a corner and spotted something that brought the vehicles to a complete stop. Up ahead, on an otherwise barren stretch of road was a pile of burnt debris. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorists have buried IEDs in piles of trash.
With the rest of the patrol a safe distance away, Barber's vehicle left the convoy and drove up to the heap to examine it with his radar and rake. Once he was certain it was safe, the patrol continued on its way.
The whole mission was a short one, only a few hours. With the exception of the pile of debris, it was uneventful. It didn't bother the men that they didn't find anything. They had done their job and ensured that their assigned routes were cleared.
“I chose to hold an honorable profession,” said Barber, “we get bad stuff off the streets.”
They would do it again the next day.
By U.S. Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jerry Saslav
Provided through DVIDS
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