By Andrea Sutherland, Fort CarsonAugust 29, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. (Aug. 29, 2012) -- Outside the wire on training area 11, quartermasters trolled the ground with the newest mine detection equipment, searching for command wire, homemade explosive device triggers and other material that could indicate a possible threat.
"This is something new," said Sgt. 1st Class Lowell Credo, 43rd Sustainment Brigade. "I'm a quartermaster so this is something that I never get to do. Hopefully I'll never have to (use the equipment), but if I do, I'll know how."
Nearby, Jason Briglin kept a watchful eye, helping Soldiers calibrate and operate the mine-detecting equipment.
"We're pushing the edge of the most updated and the newest equipment," said Briglin, route clearance and search trainer with the Fort Carson Counter Improvised Explosive Device, or IED, Integration Cell. "We're helping to change things and make them better."
Briglin said it is imperative for all Soldiers to be able to recognize IED indicators, no matter what their specific job may be.
"For a ground troop, it's essential," he said.
Throughout the past decade, service members have encountered a difficult battlefield with insurgents, suicide bombers and perhaps the most deadly enemy -- the IED.
In 2008, service members faced 3,467 IED-related incidents in Afghanistan, according to military reports. In 2011, that number grew to more than 16,000.
"IEDs are not going away," said John Dill, team lead for the Fort Carson Counter IED Integration Cell. "In 2011, troops were experiencing on average (about 45) incidents per day."
To address this challenge, officials employed counter-IED experts to help troops identify the often elusive weapon in hopes of reducing the number of casualties. In 2009, Fort Carson became the first to establish a team.
"This first started out with me sitting behind a desk in a cubicle in a corner at the old division headquarters," said Patrick Simmons, IED awareness trainer.
Throughout the next three years, the one-person shop grew to a seven-person team made up of Army veterans and experts in their career fields.
The mission of the team: to train as many troops as possible.
"IED awareness is not so much about the device itself, but what to look for," said Russell Stokes, counter-IED integrator, retired sergeant major and combat veteran. "We're teaching Soldiers the indicators for IEDs."
Stokes said it is important for all Soldiers to be able to recognize IED indicators, which may include disturbances on the ground, rock markers and "ant trails" that may conceal wires.
"When I was going to Afghanistan, this (training) didn't exist," he said.
"As late as 2009, some of (this training) was happening in country, but now we're bringing it back home."
As a counter-IED integrator, Stokes teaches Soldiers in the classroom as well as in the field.
"We're highly flexible," he said. "We can tailor training to meet the needs of the unit."
"We're here to support their training," said Dill, a retired field artillery officer. "We will train in garrison or downrange."
That dedication has led to an exponential spike in troop training.
In its first year, the team trained 1,100 Soldiers in counter-IED detection. As of July, the staff has trained more than 12,000 Soldiers in a variety of areas including IED awareness, robotics, search and clearance, biometrics and battlefield forensics. With each course, the team of experts also provides cultural understanding to help Soldiers consider how they might handle different situations with civilians.
Dill said the program fills a necessary gap in troop training, allowing Soldiers to practice with the newest equipment.
He added that units can arrange for a variety of courses to bolster skills. Units may also check out the equipment to take on training missions.
"It's so often we have someone say, 'Wow, I wish I had this on my last deployment,'" Briglin said. "All we want to do is just train Soldiers."