FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- "It's just trash," Staff Sgt. Pete Steffen of the 630th Clearance Company said with a laugh. "But it's always just trash until it's not," he said, kicking away a white plastic bag from the side of the road."Good looking out, though," he told his Soldiers, who had called him over to investigate. "That's how I know you're paying attention."And so the Soldiers of the 630th Clearance Company's 3rd Platoon carried on with their mission to clear the gravel road leading to a makeshift village in one of Fort Drum's training areas, where they would encounter a training scenario: a controversial mayoral election that could attract terrorist activity and pose a threat to the local population.Their mission was part of the company's 10-day field training exercise, which took place Aug. 8-18 on Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.The company's commander, Capt. Seth Crow, described the intent as a "situational training exercise for engineer-specific tasks."The mission, Crow said, was expected to take five or six hours, but potential threats identified along the path required due diligence, and the platoon stopped multiple times to identify and eliminate them. From trash along the side of the road to culverts where terrorists may have planted improvised explosive devices to wire found running along the tree line, the Soldiers practiced handling situations that, on a deployment, could be a matter of life or death."This sort of training is good for them -- it gets them used to the equipment, gets them used to the transition," Steffen said. "They have to get used to getting in and out, in and out (of the vehicles)."
Members of the platoon spent the morning alternating between mounted and dismounted route clearance, leading seven vehicles and 24 Soldiers along the road as they worked to ensure the road to the village was clear of threats. Upon reaching the village, they encountered other obstacles that allowed them to put their training to use.When the platoon arrived several hours later than expected, Soldiers from the company's 4th Platoon and from 642nd Engineer Support Company were waiting as role-players. Now the platoon was tasked with security, interrogation and, when a role-player threw a training grenade, tactical field care of village casualties.Although the training's planning involved a casualty scenario at the village, Pfc. Thomas Le Mar vented frustration with the platoon's performance during their return to the base."This was supposed to be a peace-keeping mission," he said. "We could have done so much better."
Le Mar, who has not yet served on a deployment, stressed the importance of training and preparation."Whenever I do deploy, I want to be as ready as I possibly can," he said. "And I'm always learning new things every field training -- every day, even in garrison. But it doesn't matter unless you can execute when you're stressed -- when you're under fire -- and this helps us learn how we handle it."Their route back didn't go as the Soldiers expected, either, when they received a message from their leadership that they would have to respond as if the first of two IED-detecting vehicles was struck, resulting in one casualty and a halted convoy.The troops practiced calling in a medical evacuation, and the would-be casualty was airlifted from a nearby field by Soldiers from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.Meanwhile, the platoon called the company's field maintenance team for support in removing the inoperable vehicle.From beginning to end, the day's training lasted more than 12 hours."That's route clearance," said Sgt. Matt Adams. "It always takes longer than you would think."Other aspects of the company's training that week included fundamental combat engineering tasks, said Le Mar, rattling off some examples from previous days: knot tying, counter mobility, medical evacuation and identification of various wires and triggers, to name a few.Crow said the company had spent about two months preparing for the field training."We identified what training we wanted to focus on and at what levels to ensure a good progressive training cycle," he said. "We have a bunch of new Soldiers and we want to get them out there."
One new Soldier, Pvt. Nathan Amigone, said he was excited to participate in his first field training exercise with the unit."It's been long though," he said. "Our first day was a patrol on foot that turned out to be like 10 miles. I kept expecting it to be done, but it was always just on to the next thing."Overall, Crow was pleased with the company's training throughout the week."These guys really maintained their motivation throughout the whole thing," he said. "It was great that the Soldiers could build up their confidence in their operations and actually get to operate as a platoon."