News: 40th Engineer Company Soldiers hunt IEDs, ensure freedom of movement
Story by Spc. Jennifer Spradlin
MULTI NATIONAL BASE TARIN KOT, Afghanistan – The improvised explosive device, easily made and effective in producing casualties, has become the biggest nemesis for coalition and Afghan National Security Forces in Afghanistan. But in the Uruzgan province, the soldiers of B Company, 40th Engineer Battalion, self-proclaimed “IED hunters,” are out on the roads actively searching out IEDs to protect both the local civilians and military.
“The Army needs someone to go out there and look for IEDs and that’s us,” said Sgt. Michael Lambert, 1st Platoon, B Company, 40th Engineer Battalion. “We are extensively trained in all the indicators for IEDs. That is our job. Our job is IEDs -- finding them, neutralizing them.”
On mission day, the soldiers report to the motor pool, where their vehicles are stored, three hours prior to the expected mission departure. It’s dark and cold, often during the earliest morning hours, when they begin the ritual of laying out gear for inspection. The various unit leaders check to make sure soldiers have the proper amount of ammo, clean weapons, functioning night vision goggles, escalation of force equipment (pin flares, panels, bullhorns), paperwork for the vehicles and a clean cabin with any extra supplies tethered down to avoid injury.
The process is detailed and long, and the soldiers huddle around a fire built inside a metal barrel for warmth. The average mission length is eight to twelve hours, but if the mission calls for it, that time can be extended for as long as it takes. Behind them, their vehicles, tall, armored are lined up like sentries. These vehicles are outfitted with the newest technology to aid in the discovery and investigation of IEDs; the soldiers are experts in operation and maintaining them.
Before each mission the soldiers are given a thorough brief on everything from the intended route and order of vehicle march to the proper medical evacuation procedures.
“No soldier is left without information on what’s going. Absolutely none. Every soldier is required to attend the brief,” said Lambert, an Austin, Texas, native. “After the brief, we say a group prayer, hop in the trucks and go out.”
Lambert is one of two soldiers in the platoon trained as an explosive ordnance clearance agent. He is authorized to destroy certain types of IEDs and munitions without aid of an explosive ordnance disposal team. Lambert said EOD responds to scenes where an IED has been found, but engineer units are tasked to find them.
Building off the success of Operation Boston, the ANSF and Coalition Forces continue to conduct foot patrols in search of weapons caches and insurgents. The 40th Engineer Battalion directly supports that effort by combing the Dorafshan area to locate IEDs before they can be used to disrupt those operations.
“Most of our time is spent outside the wire,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Solomon, the B Company, 40th Engineer Battalion, platoon sergeant. “You have to depend on all these guys out here to do their job. You get a big bond between each other. It’s definitely a second family.”
Solomon is a 13-year Army veteran with previous deployments to Iraq and the Bosnia-Kosovo conflict. He said that the job of an engineer soldier has changed a lot since he first entered the Army. The focus used to be on creating obstacles for the enemy, either by setting up traps or emplacing mine fields but now the focus has shifted to route clearance.
“This is one of the most vital jobs in the Army now, because if we don’t keep the roads clear of IEDs, which is one of our biggest threats, coalition forces, ANSF and local nationals cannot have freedom of movement,” said Solomon, a Granite City, Ill., native.
Safety is a big concern for Solomon and the leaders of the 40th Engineer Battalion, but he said that the improvements to the vehicles have gone a lone way to minimize the risk.
“The RG34, that has pretty much taken the place of the Humvee, is a lot safer because of the v-shaped hull and the fact that it’s one solid piece. If it gets hit by a blast, it takes the explosion away from the vehicle,” said Solomon.
The RG34 is a type of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected or MRAP vehicle now used by the Army to decrease the likelihood of an IED related fatality. There are several variations of MRAPs within the 40th Engineer Battalion, each equipped with unique route clearance features such as an articulated arm used for investigation and manipulation of possible IEDs or a system that detects metal signatures beneath the surface of the roads.
Outfitted with the latest technology and training, the 40th Engineer Battalion Soldiers are clearing the way for a safer Afghanistan one mission at a time.