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NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Spc. Robbie D. Nuttle II of Galena, Kan., who works as a “sweeper” for Route Clearance Package 36, Task Force Bastogne, checks the crater of an improvised explosive device blast for secondary IEDs Oct. 7 in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. The RCP’s parent unit, the 161st Engineer Company, has a 90 percent success rate when you compare the number of IEDs discovered to those that detonate. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Those who think a combat knife no longer has a use on the battlefield have not travelled with the route clearance units of Task Force Bastogne.

U.S. Army Spc. Robbie D. Nuttle II of Galena, Kan., who works as a “sweeper” for Route Clearance Package 36 under the 161st Engineer Company out of Fort Bragg, N.C., spends much of his time waving a mine detector back and forth in front of him as he walks the roads of eastern Afghanistan.

When he or fellow sweeper U.S. Army Pfc. Patrick F. Governale of Mastic, N.Y., get an indication something might be of interest in the path ahead, they pull out their knives and begin digging for it.

“It’s a little more convenient than a shovel,” Nuttle said. “It’s also more precise.”

For Nuttle, his worn knife is more than just a tool. He said he discovered 15 improvised explosive devices with it during his time here and refers to it as his “lucky knife.”

Such blades are a common sight among these route clearance teams, as is the dismounted process the Soldiers often use to uncover hidden devices designed to destroy armored vehicles.

Walk a few steps and prod at the ground. Walk for yards and prod at the ground. Walk for miles and prod at the ground. Sometimes the Soldiers travel in the road and sometimes alongside it, wading though rivers, moving through muddy farmlands and climbing hillsides.

“It’s probably one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs in the whole Army,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Kevin L. Sutton of Kinston, N.C. “Who else wants to look for something that will blow up?”

Sutton, a team leader who himself uncovered several explosive devices and previously worked with a route clearance team in Iraq, said their work is aimed at protecting their fellow servicemembers, as well as the civilian population.

“By us finding [an IED], it won’t hurt anyone else,” he said.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael C. Neuman of Wheeling, W.Va., the platoon leader for RCP 36, said his Soldiers taught him the techniques to – carefully – dig up IEDs.

Step one is to know when something suspicious might be there.

“Step two is not setting it off when you’re on top of it,” Neuman said.

It is a bragging right for the Soldiers that they hunt down IEDs, rather than working to avoid them. U.S. Army Capt. Andrew S. Glenn of Carthage, N.C., the company commander, said units can spend anywhere from eight to 14 hours on the road each day they go out.

When one compares the number of explosive devices found compared to those detonated, the company has a 90 percent success rate; the highest among its parent unit, the 27th Engineer Battalion, Glenn said.

Meanwhile, the battalion’s overall success rate of 85 percent gives it the highest in Afghanistan, he noted.

“There’s a lot of pride among these Soldiers because they are so effective,” Glenn said. “They understand the importance of the job.”

Traditionally, route clearance packages seek IEDs from the protection of mounted convoys. However, many Soldiers with the 161st Eng. Co. feel safer hunting their quarry in the open, rather than looking for the explosive devices from enclosed vehicles.

“You’ve got a better chance of finding them,” said U.S. Army Spc. Anthony C. Pfaff of Oak Harbor, Ohio, a squad leader with RCP 36. “It’s more practical.”

The terrain can be a challenge and varies widely depending on the area being checked. So, too, can be the search for hidden explosive devices.

“It has moments when it can be really tricky,” said U.S. Army Spc. Devin T. Boyd of Banning, Calif. “You really have to have your eyes peeled and you have to know what to look for.”  

The number of IEDs have steadily increased in Afghanistan, and so has the work faced by the men and women who conduct route clearance each day. Their constant patrols set a gruelling pace marked by dangerous finds and the additional risk of enemy ambushes each time they go outside the wire.

Neuman said previous route clearance units told him finding four IEDs in a year was typical. Now, one can find six of them in one day, and all in a two-kilometer stretch.

Soldiers with route clearance have become accustomed to the increased hazards, even as they pursue their continual hunt.

“It’s just an everyday part of life now,” Neuman said “You just expect it.”NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony D. Powers of Alachua, Fla., the platoon sergeant for Route Clearance Package 36, Task Force Bastogne, digs at a roadway during an Oct. 7 search for hidden improvised explosive devices near Bati Kot Village in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. The RCP’s parent unit, the 161st Engineer Company, has a 90 percent success rate when you compare the number of IEDs discovered to those that detonate. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Pfc. Patrick F. Governale of Mastic, N.Y., a “sweeper” with Route Clearance Package 36, Task Force Bastogne, walks ahead of his unit’s convoy to search the road for hidden improvised explosive devices near Bati Kot Village in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province Oct. 7. The RCP’s parent unit, the 161st Engineer Company, has a 90 percent success rate when you compare the number of IEDs discovered to those that detonate. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Sgt. Austin Brooks of Phoenix, the acting platoon sergeant for Route Clearance Package 36, Task Force Bastogne, checks the underside of a bridge during a hunt for hidden improvised explosive devices in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province Oct. 23. The RCP’s parent unit, the 161st Engineer Company, has a 90 percent success rate when you compare the number of IEDs discovered to those that detonate. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Sgt. Austin Rooks of Phoenix, the acting platoon sergeant for Route Clearance Package 36, Task Force Bastogne, radios other members of the search team during a hunt for hidden improvised explosive devices in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province Oct. 23. The RCP’s parent unit, the 161st Engineer Company, has a 90 percent success rate when you compare the number of IEDs discovered to those that detonate. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Pvt. Jamie L. Gack of Brainerd, Minn., a “sweeper” with Route Clearance Package 36, Task Force Bastogne, checks a field for hidden improvised explosive devices near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province Oct. 23. The RCP’s parent unit, the 161st Engineer Company, has a 90 percent success rate when you compare the number of IEDs discovered to those that detonate. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 October 2010 23:48
 

    

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