GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - The chill in the air is quickly removed as the sun appears to warm the Army Soldiers as they ready for their route clearance mission at a range in Grafenwoehr Training Area in Grafenwoehr, Germany, May 22, 2010.

The 1st platoon, filled with a mixture of heavy equipment operators, plumbers and carpenters, with the 535th Engineering Support Company, 54th Engineering Battalion stationed in Bamberg, Germany, stand in formation under the direction of Sgt. 1st Class Rodrick Carter, a heavy construction equipment supervisor in the unit.

Sgt. Daniel Martin, a heavy equipment operator in 535th Engineering Support Company, said route clearing included training routes, finding improvised explosive device (IEDs), dismount patrols and interrogating the enemy.

Each member, in the platoon of approximately 25 to 30 soldiers, is checked for proper equipment and battery life on the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) gear they wear.
The agony of sitting and waiting overwhelms the motor pool occupants.

1st Lt. James Puddicombe, platoon leader of first platoon, gives a small briefing of what the Soldiers will do and what to expect from the training.

After, the briefing, the Soldiers are dispersed into seven vehicles for travel to the range.
Pfc. Mathew Schuh, a heavy equipment operator, drives a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), at a speed of 20 mph, keeping a 100 meter distance between the vehicles in front of him as directed by Puddicombe.

"Keeping a 100 meter distance between vehicles is a tactic, in case an IED hits," said Puddicombe. "Being close to that vehicle, two cars could get taken out."

Upon arrival, the Soldiers were set out to do their first training exercise in route clearing.
The seven vehicles drove on the rocky path of the training course of simulated scenarios that could occur in Afghanistan's cities.

Gunners sat at the top of two convoys, watchful of suspicious activity, while the radios in the vehicles transmitted messages from Puddicombe to the other members of the platoon.

Each path the vehicles take creates a new challenge for the platoon, as Soldiers transmit messages like noticing cylindrical cans that could be possible IEDs or possibly coming across insurgents.

In four hours, 1st platoon completed route clearing procedures without a single incident.

"Route clearance usually is an all day task ... could last for 18 hours or more, so this is nothing," Carter said.

Carter said the training course was a short, timed exercise representing an actual day long procedure when the unit has to do this during deployment.

Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Russell, the intelligence non-commissioned officer in charge in the 54th Engineering Battalion, said this would be an evaluation of the platoon doing route fire and route clearance.

"This is 535's first time doing Route Clearing Procedures (RCP), because they're used to construction and working," said Russell.

"There are no RCPs that are 100 percent," said Martin. "It what's working the best and when the enemy changes we have to change our tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs)."

Russell said he has confidence in the patrol elements, dismounted procedures and troop leading procedures for the upcoming deployment.

Russell returned from deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom about eight months ago, and soon will be deploying back to Afghanistan with the 54th Engineering Battalion.