The Army's new High Mobility Engineer Excavator saved the life of a Soldier in Iraq May 29, when an anti-tank mine exploded as he was digging a culvert trench near South Balad Ruz.
The device exploded and immobilized the Army's replacement to the Small Emplacement Excavator, the HMEE. Sgt. Adam Smith Jr., 9th Engineer Battalion, 172nd Infantry Brigade, walked away from the wreckage.
"I'm thankful I was in the HMEE and not the SEE," Smith said.
"I am extremely happy with the blast protection offered by the HMEE; it saved my Soldier's life," said Capt. Andrew Maxa, Company B, 9th Engineer Battalion commander.
The biggest improvement in the HMEE, is that it puts armor around a backhoe. A SEE has no armor, and wasn't meant for work as a combat vehicle, Maxa said.
Co. B deployed to Iraq in January, and has been working with other units, including Fort Leonard Wood's 5th Engineer Battalion, clearing routes for Task Force 3-66 Armor and restoring infrastructure for the Iraqi people.
"Our unit was initially focused on clearing the routes. Now that they are largely cleared, we continue to clear them, but we are providing general engineering support as well. A lot of support has come from the 5th Engineer Battalion, a great help to the task force's efforts - using heavy equipment to improve local canal routes, and emplacing culverts, which is what we were doing with the HMEE," Maxa said.
"Since January, we have cleared 50 mines and IEDs from the South Balad Ruz area. The area is now largely freely traveled by coalition forces," Maxa said.
When Smith dug up the mine, he was installing culverts to create canal-crossing points, Maxa said. Iraqi farmers rely on canals for irrigation.
Smith's life was saved by the armor of the HMEE, and there is one less threat to the Iraqi farmers, Maxa said.
"The Army has been fielding interim HMEEs since at least 2007. I think the first actual HMEEs were issued earlier this year. We got ours in April," Maxa said.
The vehicle is a big improvement in many ways, Maxa said. "It's a great combination of mobility, survivability and capability."
Maxa's unit has already replaced the damaged HMEE and continues to provide support to Coalition Forces and the IA.
(Luke Waack writes for the Guidon newspaper at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.)