LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Capt. Jason Merchant, the company commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman from Dysart, Iowa, hands out cards Dec. (click for more)
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Spc. Lauren Hyman of Texarkana, Texas, armored vehicle driver for the 64th Military Police Company based at Combat Oupost Fortress, says hello to an (click for more)
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Taylor Gingrich, an infantry officer from Cedar Falls, Iowa, with Task Force Ironman, draws a smile from an Afghan boy as Gingrich (click for more)
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Spc. Brian Stowe, a human resources specialist from Elkmont, Ala., with Task Force Knighthawk, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, sings a ballad he wrote and (click for more)
PAKTYA, Afghanistan – Servicemembers defend the wall after an improvised explosive device detonates on Forward Operating Base Lightning Dec. 5. (click for more)
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan and French military chiefs conduct a briefing before deployment during a security operation. Afghan National Security Forces and French Task Force Richelieu conducted Operation Montevideo (click for more)
PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Phil Compton, Doty, Wash., Panjshir PRT engineer, and PRT local Afghan engineer Abid Wardak check the structural integrity of the retaining (click for more)
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan family looks at their new family member after she was delivered by the Polish Army medical team at Forward Operating Base Warrior Jan. 3. (click for more)
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, maneuver through Sabari District during patrols to disrupt insurgent activity in the (click for more)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Sgt. Shawn Fouste, Decatur, Ill., noncommissioned officer in charge of the Freedom Restoration Center with the 455th Expeditionary Wing, Task Force Med, plays with (click for more)
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.”
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|Afghan forces, TF Bastogne continue operations in Sherzad District|
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan National Security Forces and Soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Bastogne, continued operations in the Sherzad District Jan. 8 clearing the village of Toto of insurgent fighters to reinforce a foundation of security in the area.
|TF Iron eliminates insurgent IED team|
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Soldiers form Task Force Iron Rakkasan and members of the Afghan Uniformed police, using the Precision Threat Detection System blimp at Forward Operating Base Andar, identified a group of insurgents with weapons and explosives Jan. 3.
|TF Iron Rakkasan uses PTDS to prevent highway robbery|
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Recently, Soldiers from Task Force Iron Rakkasan watched a member of the Afghan Uniformed Police conduct an illegal checkpoint on the route between Ghazni and Sharana. Using the camera system on the Persistent Threat Detection System, Soldiers observed a man standing in the road collecting money from vehicles. The practice is common by insurgents who fund their attacks by taking money from locals.
|Joint operation helps clear Sherzad of insurgent activity|
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan National Security Forces and Soldiers from Task Force Bastogne began operations in the Sherzad District Dec. 23.