LOGAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The motor pool was a flurry of activity as the final preparations were being made May 23, 2014, by the Spartan Soldiers of 2nd Platoon, “Combined Arms Route Clearance Operation 30,” Company A, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), at Forward Operating Base Shank for a night route clearance mission.
Route clearance missions are a critical part of the U.S. Army's ability to sustain operations in theater. They are also among some of the most dangerous missions to conduct.
“The purpose of the route clearance missions is to ensure the main supply routes, alternate supply routes and any other routes utilized by coalition forces are free of Improvised Explosive Devices both on the route and immediately off the sides of the routes,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Connor Gerencser of Pickerington, Ohio, the platoon leader for the 2nd Platoon, CARCO 30.
A route clearance mission conducted in either day or night involves a great deal of specialized equipment and the specialized Soldiers to operate that equipment. It also involves using careful observation of one's surroundings as well as a willingness to leave the safety of the vehicle to get a better look when it’s needed.
“Some of the tasks involved are mounted clearance, which is going down the road, (and) looking out the windows looking for some of the indicators of IEDs. Another task is to utilize dismounted clearance teams, which involves getting out of your truck to look for trigger men and command wires, which may be possibly leading to IEDs,” said Gerencser.
The hazards these Spartan Soldiers face to ensure others may use the routes in safety are daunting and real.
“As you’re going down the road, there is the possibility of a bomb exploding. So you are always hoping you don't get blown up, but there are also IEDs which target dismounted patrols have to clear and also small-arms fire because you are moving in a large convoy; so you are a big target,” said Gerencser.
Intensive training both in the classroom and in the field are necessary to ensure everyone on the team has the knowledge to counter an ever-changing enemy threat and the Spartan Soldiers who conduct these missions have that knowledge and apply every day, making a difficult mission seem routine.
“I have been on roughly around 40 missions so far,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Dylan Ralston, of Yerington, Nevada, “To get ready, we went through a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk where we did plenty of route clearance training, dismounted route clearance training as well as training on the use of hand-held detectors and other kinds of equipment.”
Ralston is a team leader with 2nd Platoon, CARCO 30. Company A, 3rd BSTB, and is on his first deployment. He credits his team’s vigilance as much as he does their equipment and training for his teams' success, especially when the long hours on the road are more conducive to boredom and complacency than they are to remaining acutely aware of the surroundings which can mean the difference between mission success and mission failure.
“We keep our eyes peeled looking for anything out of the ordinary, and we keep the conversation going inside the truck to ensure everyone stays alert,” said Ralston.
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This work, Spartan Soldiers ensure route safety in Afghanistan, by SGT Javier Amador, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.