Route Clearance Patrols: Making roads safe, checking them twice
May 23, 2011
It's 12:30 a.m. about 15 minutes into the patrol. The streets are quiet and the lights are off in the local area. Suddenly, a bright flash appears, and a shockwave that can be felt through body armor hits the Soldiers. A rush of adrenaline flowed through their bodies. The driver of the second vehicle speeds up to assess the damage, and medics rush in. Fortunately, the Soldiers are not injured.
A buried 155mm artillery round blew a large hole through the front tire of the mine-resistant armor-protected vehicle rendering it immobile.
This was the scene the Soldiers of 2nd Platoon, 950th Engineer Company faced during a route clearance mission earlier this year.
Patrolling the streets of Iraq can be a daunting task for the Soldiers who conduct route-clearance patrols to make the roads safe for everyone who travels them.
"We clear the roads of improvised explosive devices for United States convoys, local nationals and Iraqi security forces," said Sgt. Eric Zimmerman, from Oshkosh, Wisc., and a combat engineer with 2nd Platoon, 950th Engineer Company, 724th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade.
The Soldiers in the platoon performed route-clearance missions about five times-a-week and had one of the more dangerous jobs of U.S. forces in Iraq.
"As a gunner, I have a better field of vision to be able to spot an IED," said Pfc. Jake Wagner, a combat engineer also with second platoon. "Once we locate one, we cordon off the area to keep everyone safe. Then, we look for secondary IEDs that might be in the area."
After the area of a suspected IED was secured, Zimmerman's team, which drove the Buffalo-variant MRAP, had many tools at its disposal to investigate the IED.
"We have a large remote-control arm with a video camera mounted on it to dig through trash and push items off the road to verify IEDs," he said. "We also have a remote-control tracked robot with four cameras and an arm built in to manipulate anything we think could be an IED."
The Soldiers of the route-clearance teams also worked with the ISF and received assistance from unmanned aircraft and other aerial support to assist in keeping the roads safe for travel.
"After the area is cordoned off, we call out an explosive ordinance disposal team, and they normally blow the IED in place," said Spc. Josh Lynch, from Oshkosh Wisc., a combat engineer with 2nd Platoon.
For the Soldiers of 2nd Platoon, finding an IED before it detonated was the best part of their job.
"It's a really rewarding feeling when we find an IED," said Lynch. "We more than likely saved someone's life, whether it be a U.S. service member, a civilian or Iraqi security forces. It's what we do."