News: Huskies and Buffaloes help Badgers clear roads
Story by 1st Lt. Joseph Trovato
By 1st Lt. Joe Trovato
Wisconsin National Guard
FORT MCCOY, Wis. - A Wisconsin engineer unit that specializes in route clearance is among the first units in the National Guard to receive the latest vehicles in mine detection and examination.
The Superior, Wis.-based 950th Engineer Company arrived at its annual training at Fort McCoy, Wis., in mid-June to begin training on the Army's Husky mine detection vehicle as well as the Buffalo mine resistant ambush protected armored vehicle.
Like other Guard route clearance vehicles, the 950th used both vehicles extensively on past deployments overseas. The unit most recently deployed to Iraq in 2010-11 where it used the vehicles to sweep roads for improvised explosive devices. But the unit has never had its own vehicles on which to train here at home.
"Route clearance is nothing new, but having the equipment definitely is," said Capt. Paul Cusick, who commands the 186 Soldiers of the 950th along with the 954th Area Clearance platoon.
Route clearance missions took on an important role during the conflicts of the past decade as insurgents buried improvised explosive devices along roads in an effort to derail coalition vehicles. The military adopted the Husky, which was originally used in South Africa, to help detect the devices. There are millions of mines scattered across Afghanistan, underscoring the importance of route clearance to military objectives.
"My opinion is it's phenomenal," said Spc. Justin Ball of Superior, Wis., who was training on the vehicle for the first time. "It's a vehicle-mounted mine-detection system, and it's keeping Soldiers safe. You don't ever have to leave the vehicle in order to pinpoint and mark an IED."
The Husky is outfitted with mine-detecting sensors and specially designed overpass wheels that exert less than nine pounds of pressure per square inch at their point of contact with the ground. That allows the vehicle to roll directly over most explosive devices without tripping them.
Once the Huskies find and mark the explosives, the 950th calls in its other new vehicle, the Buffalo, which is equipped with a 39-ft. arm with a fork that can probe the suspicious area to determine the nature of the device.
The Buffalo, a 66,000-pound, six-wheeled armored vehicle, is built specifically for the purpose. Its extended arm has cameras, the ability to dig, and a high-pressure blower that can clear dirt and debris from the area.
"This is what we do," said Sgt. 1st Class Ray Heilman. "This is our baby. This is the vehicle to have, because this is what is going to determine your mission. We're there to clear routes. This is what does it for us."
The unit spent its first several days of its annual training familiarizing with the equipment before embarking on a five-day field training exercise at Fort McCoy.
"All the guys I've talked to have just been loving the training," said Sgt. Corey Pederson, who oversaw the arrival and assembly of the Husky vehicles.
The 950th also spent time in virtual simulators where they received additional training on the operation of both vehicles before testing their skills in the field.