News: Engineers Train to Defeat IED Threat
Story by Sgt. Brent Powell
FORT IRWIN, Calif., - One of the most deadly and serious threats facing Soldiers on the battlefield today is improvised explosive devices. From the streets of Iraq to the mountain passes of Afghanistan, the threat remains a daily concern for those deployed to these areas.
In order to combat this threat and make the battlefield safer for all who travel across it, a special team of Soldiers is training here to seek out and destroy IED's and protect American lives.
The special team is comprised of approximately 80 reserve Soldiers from the 323rd Engineer Company from Spartanburg, S.C.
They are here as part of Operation Sand Castle 2009. The annual operation brings together reserve combat engineer units from around the United States to train here at the National Training Center to hone their engineering and combat skills in a desert environment.
"Our main mission is looking for IED's and possibly the bad guy who is placing them," said Staff Sgt. Edward A. Henderson, platoon sergeant, 323rd Eng. Co. "Our whole job is a presence patrol combined with route reconnaissance. We look for anything and everything that looks suspicious."
The Soldiers use a host of specialized equipment to assist them with locating and destroying any IED threats they may find.
Each piece of equipment has not only a unique purpose, but unique names as well. They have the Husky, Cougar, Cayman and Buffalo. Each has a special function to keep the Soldiers safe and reduce or eliminate the IED threat.
The Husky is a unique piece of equipment that has a unique look to it as well. It resembles a road grader, without the grader. It assists the Soldiers with locating IED's that may lie hidden under the soil. "It's basically a large metal detector," said Henderson.
Another piece of equipment the Soldiers use is the Buffalo. It's larger than the Husky, and resembles something more sinister. It's equipped with a large robotic arm on top of the vehicle that extends to a sharp pointed fork.
"The Buffalo is an inspection vehicle," said Henderson. "If we suspect a hidden IED or need to get a closer look at an object we can use the Buffalo to assist us." The vehicle has even made an appearance on the recent and very popular "Transformers 2" movie.
The Cayman and the Cougar are heavily armored vehicles that perform basic security duties to protect the soldiers from enemy attack while they conduct their route clearance duties.
According to Henderson one of the benefits of their training here is allowing his junior Soldiers to get some hands-on training.
"The training here is very beneficial," he said. "The Soldiers actually get to see what the vehicles look like, how they are used and how they handle. There is no other way to train or prepare them for their mission than for them to actually go out and look for IED's."
Another benefit he mentioned is the environment itself.
"Fort Irwin has a good mixture of the environments found in both Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "It has the heat, sand, rocks and mountains. It helps prepare the Soldiers for what they may encounter if they deploy."
Despite the heat and the elements here, the Soldiers seemed to enjoy the hands-on training. "I love driving the Husky," said Spc. John P. Hubbard, a combat engineer from Greenville, S.C. "It's fun, it's safe and it's kinda like driving an up armored dune buggy."
Hubbard, who recently spent 16-months in Iraq and 12-months in Afghanistan using the Husky and conducting route clearing missions, said this training was very beneficial to the junior Soldiers of his unit. "We don't have a Husky back at our unit," he said. "So this gives everyone an opportunity to get some hands-on training and see how it's actually utilized."
"I've learned a lot about route clearing, the formations we use and what we do," said Pfc. Curtis J. Cousins, a 21-year-old combat engineer from Sumter, S.C. "Learning to drive the Husky has been a lot of fun. It's nice and air-conditioned and fun to drive."
The very nature of the unit's mission puts the Soldiers directly into harms way, but to Henderson it's a job that he enjoys. "It's a dangerous job," he said. "But I feel like I'm taking care of my fellow military members, because the less IED's are on a route the less casualties and injuries we have, and that's what really matters."
The unit will continue to conduct training here for the remainder of Operation Sand Castle 2009 sharpening their skills and working to protect the lives of others against IED threats.