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Engineers and tankers receive a route clearance mission brief from 1st Lt. David A. Sierleja, the platoon commander for 2nd Plt., Co. A, 3rd CEB, during a mission rehearsal exercise Feb 24. "Route clearance is important in our Afghanistan mission because we are the lead element to allow followon forces to reach their objective; we provide road security so logistics trains can get from point A to point B," Sierleja said.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Benjamin Crilly

Afghanistan-bound Marines use assets to engage IEDs

5 Mar 2010 | Lance Cpl. Benjamin Crilly

Combat engineers and a company of attached tankers with 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion wrapped up a week-long mission rehearsal exercise here Feb. 28.

The self-sustained exercise marked the first battalion-level field exercise since the unit was reactivated in 2009, and the final stages of training for their upcoming deployment this spring.

“The  MRX enables the Marines of 3rd CEB to train to and be evatuated on their core engineer functions of mobility, counter mobility and survivability in support of the MAGTF,” said 1st Lt. Craig A. Zoellner, the adjutant for 3rd CEB.

The training was focused to support two main tasks, Route Reconaissance and Clearance [R2C] and mechanized breaching operations. In theatre these tasks will be essential to ensure the freedom of movement for friendly forces within an area of operation.

One enabler utilized in the R2C mission are dogs. The dogs, which began their service during World War II, possess a keen sense of smell which enables Marines to safely search for and locate IEDs in both larger and more complex areas in a shorter amount of time.

The dogs are used to detect the device by literally using their noses to hunt down the IEDs, explained 2nd Lt. Marcelo Garcia, 3rd CEB’s counter-IED officer, and a native of Severna Park, Md.

“Having dogs internal to CEB helps the mission a lot because the dogs can smell small things we may have missed or where [Husky Towing, Mine Detection Vehicle and Mounted Detection Systems] can’t get to,” said Lance Cpl. Chad M. Specht, a dog handler and machine gunner with 2nd Platoon, Company A, 3rd CEB, and a native of Cheyenne, Wyo.  “Having the dogs makes us more effective in route clearance.”

In addition to handling the dogs, the route clearance patrols ensure surveillance and security for the roads, Garcia said.

 “Route clearance is important in our Afghanistan mission because we are the lead element to allow follow on forces to reach their objective; we provide road security so logistics trains can get from point A to point B,” said 1st Lt. David A. Sierleja, 2nd Platoon’s commander. “We have to be able to detect the presence of IEDs and be able to neutralize those IEDs while eliminating all enemy threats located around the routes we are going to clear.”

The Mentor, Ohio native, went on to explain the engineers did that by employing the Huskies to detect the threat, then using a category three Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle with a modified arm, dubbed a “Buffalo,” to interrogate the threat. Once a threat has been determined to be an IED, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams embedded with the battalion neutralize and exploit it.

“The idea of route clearance has been around and isn’t new to CEB, but at this level with this many platoons working exclusively and independently to clear routes, it’s a whole new mission for us,” said Gunnery Sgt. Robert D. Ogle, the platoon sergeant for 2nd Plt., Co. A, 3rd CEB, and a native of Sevierville, Tenn.

First Tank Battalion reinforced 3rd CEB with tank crewmen and mechanics in order to establish an Assault Breacher Vehicle platoon.

ABVs are a modified version of the M1-A1 Main Battle Tank, which carry and launch two line charges. Each linear charge contains 1,750 pounds of  Composite Four explosives attached to a rocket used to breach proof and mark complex obstacles, said 2nd Lt. Matt D. Humiston, the platoon commander for ABV platoon, 3rd CEB, and a native of Kennedale, Texas.

“The ABV is comprised of two separate fields, the bottom is tanker specific and the upper part is engineer specific,” said Staff Sgt. Shawn M. Hicks, the ABV section leader. “It’s important for us to work together because the engineers are teaching tankers how to operate the line charge and breach, while we are teaching them how to tactically employ and maintain tracked vehicles.

“Being a part of this MRX is also important because the battalion needs to learn how to support track vehicles before we get into country,” added the Kingsman, Ariz., native.

“We have different tools to tackle and sort out any IED related problem that the enemy throws at us,” Garcia concluded.

The MRX also allowed battalion staff to control units effectively and exercised the support staff of those units, whether it be in the same training area or as if we were in country, said 1st Lt. Sergio L. Sandoval, the 3rd CEB assistant operations officer.

“The operation allows for interoperability between all of the engineer, EOD and tanker assets in the battalion,” said Sandoval, a native of Pico Rivera, Calif. “Which is how they will be used in country.”

With the operability gained, the knowledge learned and the implementation of the skills taught, 3rd CEB will be better able to conduct safe and successful route clearance when they deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

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