LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- The motor pool at Forward Operating Base Shank was a flurry of activity May 23 as Spartan Soldiers made their final preparations for a night route clearance mission -- one of the most dangerous missions to conduct, but a critical part of the U.S. Army's ability to sustain operations in theater.

"The purpose … 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 1st Lt. Connor Gerencser, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon (Combined Arms Route Clearance Operation 30), A Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI).

A route clearance mission conducted in either day or night involves a great deal of specialized equipment and 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 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," Gerencser said. "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."

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," Gerencser said. "So you are always hoping you don't get blown up. But there are also IEDs that 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."
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. The Spartan Soldiers who conduct these missions have that knowledge and apply it every day, making a difficult mission seem routine.
"I have been on roughly 40 missions so far," said Sgt. Dylan Ralston. "To get ready, we went through a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, (La.), 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."
Currently on his first deployment, Ralston is a team leader with 2nd Platoon (CARCO 30), A Company, 3rd BSTB.
He credits his team's vigilance as much as their equipment and training for their success, especially when the long hours on the road are more conducive to boredom and complacency than they are to remaining acutely aware of one's surroundings, which can mean the difference between mission success and mission failure.
"We keep our eyes peeled, looking for anything out of the ordinary," Ralston said. "And we keep the conversation going inside the truck, to ensure everyone stays alert."