MANSURIYAH, Iraq – On Jan. 10, in one of the most dangerous places in Iraq, the combat engineers of 1st Platoon, 38th Engineer Company formed a circle, putting their arms around each other with their hands in the middle. They proudly exclaimed their platoon motto as they raised their hands in unison. They then slowly bowed their heads in prayer, asking for guidance before embarking into the Diyala province area known as the "Bread Basket."
Since May, the men of the 38th Engineer Company have put their lives on the line on an almost daily basis, searching for improvised explosive devices along some of the most dangerous roads in the world. The day's mission, however, is especially dangerous, as the engineers must clear routes into the northern Diyala River Valley, an area al-Qaida in Iraq has called home for several years.
Operation Raider Harvest began Jan. 8 with more than 4,000 troops from the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division sweeping into the Bread Basket to kill or capture enemy insurgents in the area.
During the clearing phase of Raider Harvest, more than 20 IEDs were found and cleared. One of the 38th Engineer vehicles was hit by an IED, but no one inside was seriously injured.
"We maintain the combat power," said 38th Engineer Company Commander Capt. Adam Harless. "If we're able to get (the maneuver units) to their objectives with their combat power maintained, it gives them more options. It is our responsibility to give them options on the battlefield."
The 38th Engineers cleared the way for the M1A2 Tanks and Bradleys of 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, from Fort Hood, Texas, to move through the streets into their respective positions for Operation Raider Harvest.
"Our mission was to expand our blocking positions from the Northern Diyala River Valley, to the western side of the Diyala River Valley," said Maj. Cameron Cantlon, squadron operations officer for 2-3 ACR. "The 38th Engineers allowed our unit to do its job without having to clear routes as part of establishing a block or attacking to establish positions. It gives us a freedom of movement to do what's necessary in our mission to keep our Soldiers safe without having to slow down or stop along routes to check out a possible IED or known IED locations."
Following the clearing phase of the operation, coalition and Iraqi security forces are working together to give needed supplies and security to the local people.
The 38th Engineers are key in these phases as well.
"By getting a good initial clearance of the routes," Harless said, "we're setting the stage for the build and hold phases, getting humanitarian assistance into these areas that haven't seen much assistance from either the Iraqi government or coalition forces. Also, it allows us to increase the infrastructure by getting the teams to come out to assess the water, power and construction on the roads."
"We cleared the routes so the people will get some (Iraqi police) and (Iraqi army) support down there in that area that hasn't had any American presence in about two years," said Staff Sgt. Chad Jones of Denver City, Texas, squad leader in the 38th Engineer Company. "It went well. The people were real receptive. They greeted us with smiles and waves. They looked like they wanted our help. From my point of view, it looked like they were glad we were there. "
The 38th Engineer Soldiers completed another mission unharmed, but there is a sobering probability that they will be hit again before their tour is complete.
"I think my Soldiers are some of the bravest people out there for going out everyday looking for IEDs," Harless said. "They know they are going to get hit sometimes. We're not going to find all of them, but everyday they get up and they go out."
"We have Soldiers that have already been awarded multiple purple hearts this deployment," Harless concluded, "and we still have about six months left. I have Soldiers that have been struck nine or 10 times by IEDs, and as they're medically cleared, they continue to go back out. It's pretty amazing to say the least. "