By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAOFebruary 25, 2009
BAGHDAD - In a cramped, wooden shack behind the 688th Engineer Company headquarters at Camp Liberty here, about 30 combat engineers sit on beat-up couches and poke fun at each other before another route clearance mission begins.
"We sit around and listen to music and play cards after our mission prep is done," explains Sgt. Zach Rostan, the truck commander for the "Buffalo", a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle assigned to the Army Reserve unit from Fayetteville, Ark. "We all like to have fun and relax; we're going out looking for bombs you know, so we try to stay relaxed."
After 170 missions and over 1,000 hours clearing improvised explosive devices from Baghdad's streets since July 2008, the combat engineers know their jobs. The three engineers within 'Team Buffalo,' as they call themselves, periodically switch positions within the vehicle to ensure familiarization with each other's jobs, routes and equipment.
"The Buffalo's approximately 27 tons, but lots of the weight comes from armor," said Sgt. John Maes, a driver assigned to the 688th Eng. Co. The 27-foot long, 8-foot wide, six-wheeled vehicle is anything but diminutive. The vehicle dwarfs almost all other MRAPs in the convoy, but for good reason.
"Our job is to go out and find what kills most Soldiers over here, which is bombs," said Rostan, a native of Hot Springs, Ark.
"We are scannin' for bombs as well as suspicious activity to reduce the threat against us and the community," said Sgt. Thomas Dieter, the third Buffalo crewmember and the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station operator. Like most Army Reservists, Dieter, a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Roland, Okla., left a job in order to deploy to Iraq.
"I do the firefighting for my community and we're over here looking for bombs so the other forces can go out and find the insurgents, you know, to help protect our country," added Dieter. "I enjoy helping people out. I mean, it's our community."
This is the first deployment to Iraq for all three Buffalo operator engineers and since first arriving here, they have seen a huge difference in the communities, said Dieter. The shift in threat climate can be partially attributed to these combat engineers.
"We try to throw out candy and soccer balls and whatever to kinda show them that we're here to help and not try to hurt them," continued Dieter.
"Iraqi kids change their image of us when we give them stuff, and it doesn't hurt with the adults too," said Maes, a native of Fayetteville, Ark.
Along with handing out candy and soccer balls, the engineers also give the community a sense of security.
"If it wasn't for us, there'd be a lot more IEDs out here," explained Rostan.
"The insurgents want to kill Americans, but if they can't they'll kill anybody, to cause mass chaos," continued Maes.
With about 700 investigations so far, the Soldiers from "Team Buffalo" help prevent chaos everyday by going down the routes enough to notice when something is out of place and doesn't belong, added Maes.
"I trust if we roll down a route and don't find something, it probably wasn't there," exclaimed Staff Sgt. Brandon Hampton, noncommissioned officer in charge of the day's convoy and native of Fort Smith, Ark. "Our job as route clearance is to go out and find the bombs so no one else has to find them the hard way."
Though these stalwart combat engineers spend long, slow, heavy hours rolling over the same pieces of pavement, its better the 688th Eng. Co. find IEDs than letting other troops or innocent Iraqis find them the hard way, without the protection of a Buffalo.