News: 288th Sappers clear the way
UZUGAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Sappers have a long history of “Clearing the Way” on the frontlines of the battlefield. Today, in Afghanistan, the front line is indistinguishable from the rear, and the battlefield is indistinguishable from the home front, but Sappers are still “Clearing the Way.”
The 288th Sapper Company “Hilltoppers”, a National Guard Unit out of Houston, Miss., deployed in November 2011, and is “Clearing the Way” in the Uzugan province of southern Afghanistan. Based at Multinational Base Tarin Kowt, their mission is to provide freedom of movement in and around the Dorifshan, Baluchi, Chorah, Mirabad, Tangi, and Deh Rawood Valleys for the local Afghan people, Afghan Security Forces, government forces of Afghanistan, and coalition forces. This means that instead of trying to avoid IED’s and other battlefield dangers, they search them out and destroy them.
According to 288th Company Commander Capt. Brenton Montgomery, from Memphis, Tenn., “The mission is going great. These guys are awesome; they have been cleaning house around here.”
The unit, to be effective in Afghanistan, has evolved, creating new ways of approaching the missions. “At times, the route clearance missions call for dismounted patrols, said 2Lt. Alex Armstrong, 288th 1st platoon leader, from Grenada, Miss.
“Route clearance had previously always been mounted and a lot of the guys had the ‘death before dismount’ mentality, but neutralizing the IED threat here in Afghanistan sometimes requires the soldiers to get out and look, to use dog teams if they have them. You have to treat the whole area as a mine field almost, because you never know where it’s going to be.”
Montgomery said there’s been a positive impact. In the winter season everything slowed down, the guys got a chance to walk through some of the villages, actually meet some people, drink some chai with the village elders. The last couple of weeks that’s paid off; they have actually lead us to a couple IED’s “, Montgomery said.
The unit has had 18 IED finds and 7 detonations since November. “Everyone has walked away from the explosions,” said Armstrong, “one truck ended up in three pieces, but everyone walked away unharmed. It’s amazing, the equipment that the Army is giving us.
“The hardest thing in Afghanistan is to weed out the false positives - and the poppy fields can be a dangerous place because they are often heavily protected”
Walking in and working around poppy fields and the farmers who tend them has become common place to the soldiers of the 288th, but their mission focuses on securing the roads and surrounding valley, not eradicating crops.
“They are people too, just trying to make a living,” Armstrong said, “They are out there on their hands and knees farming. They are just trying to make it work every day; they live in a war zone. It’s hard for a lot of soldiers to humanize the people of Afghanistan cause we don’t get out and talk to them, but now that we dismount we see more people, we connect with more people, the locals have started coming to us and telling us ‘hey there is a bomb somewhere over here.’ They don’t want it there anymore than we do.”
Date Posted:04.11.2012 10:38
Location:UZUGAN PROVINCE, AF
Hometown:HOUSTON, MS, US
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