Members of 1st Platoon, 102nd Sapper Company, 307th Engineer Battalion (Combat Airborne), 20th Engineer Brigade, evacuate one of their soldiers to a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter after he was injured by an improvised explosive device on the way to Combat Outpost Baraki Barak, Oct. 10, 2012. First Platoon cleared a route in the Baraki Barak district to facilitate the movement of supplies to COP Baraki Barak. Photo by Sgt. Christopher Bonebrake, 115th MPAD.
Full story by SGT Bonebrake after the jump...
At that moment, members of 1st Platoon, 102nd Sapper Company, 307th Engineer Battalion (Combat Airborne), 20th Engineer Brigade, without hesitation, set up security and pulled out the injured soldier to assess his injuries.
It was immediately apparent that the rehearsals the platoon conducted for this mission were time well spent.
First Platoon was tasked to conduct a route clearance patrol in the Baraki Barak district. The 102nd SC is responsible for providing route clearance support in the Logar province.
“We clear this route on a regular basis to allow freedom of manuever for coalition forces and supplies to and from COP Baraki Barak,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Jesse Carter, the platoon leader for 1st Platoon.
For this particular mission, 1st Platoon started preparing days in advance. They conducted rehearsals, intelligence briefs on the routes were analyzed and the command ensured all soldiers knew their assigned roles for the mission.
“You have to look at where the enemy is setting the attacks,” Carter said. “We don’t play checkers in this company, we’re taught to play chess.”
This constant analysis of enemy trends and our focus on solid fundamentals is what makes this company so successful, said U.S. Army Maj. Kenneth Cook, company commander of the 102nd SC.
“When I send my platoons out, I give them a clear and concise task and purpose to ensure that they understand what I expect from any combat operation,” Cook added. “When they get back, they debrief me about what they encountered and their counter-actions so that we have the most up-to-date information for our next mission.”
The 102nd SC not only conducts route clearance but is also an extension of diplomacy and a strong-willed investigative tool.
“We pride ourselves in the technical and tactical aspects of our job here. My soldiers have trained to fight tactically and think strategically,” said Cook. “When we do route clearance we don’t just seek the threat. We actually want to get on the ground to put the puzzle together and defeat the network.”
Cook sends his teams out with pre-prepared questions for the locals that cover everything from what unfamiliar groups are operating in the area to how their crops and farms are doing.
“These questions are important to us because I just don’t want to find the IEDs, I want to break and eliminate the underlying enablers that feed the cycle,” Cook added.
On the morning of the mission, Carter conducted a thorough briefing that covered every element of the mission to ensure his platoon had the information they needed in case something went wrong.
“I back brief constantly to make sure that my guys are retaining the information I’m giving them,” he said. “l throw them into hypothetical high-stress situations and ask them ‘what if I went down, what are you going to do now?’”
“My soldier’s safety is my number one priority,” Carter said. “I wouldn’t send them anywhere I wouldn’t go myself. If I see a soldier getting complacent on the ground, I’ll pull him back into the truck. They take that seriously and it’s a reality check.”
As the Sappers loaded trucks with ammunition and supplies, there was a camaraderie that was hard to miss. They bantered and threw jokes back and forth.
“It’s a tight family,” Carter added. “Getting out of your comfort zone, you learn to get really close to your unit.”
A couple hours into the mission, the convoy was hit with an IED. One soldier was injured in the blast and a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle was wrecked. The security team put up a perimeter and remaining dismounts worked quickly to secure the equipment in the disabled truck and call in a medevac.
As the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter roared into land, spraying the platoon with grass and dust, the litter team loaded up the casualty as AH-64 Apache helicopters kept a watchful eye overhead. The mechanics loaded the truck onto a flatbed and the rest of 1st Platoon continued dismounted into a village, scanning the ground for command wires and secondary IEDs.
“That’s the name of this business out here,” Carter said. “If something goes wrong, we can’t call it quits. You have to lower your shoulder and drive through it.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Jeremiah Durstine, a dismount team leader, has the utmost confidence in his team and is proud of their accomplishments.
“My team is spot-on,” Durstine said. “We’ve found a significant amount of IEDs, unexploded ordinance and command wires. I think a lot of our success comes from our commanders laser sharp focus with training and a sixth sense of where to look.”
Farther down the road, teams moved dismounted through another village to check a drainage ditch, but thankfully they find nothing and the convoy moves on. 1st Plt. finally reaches Combat Outpost Baraki Barak and turns the convoy around.
After a total of almost 14 hours outside the wire, the platoon returns to FOB Shank and begins to unload their weapons and gear. Exhausted and dirty, some stumble to bed, while others hang out and smoke, recounting the day’s events.
“I wouldn’t want to be over here with any other group,” Carter said. “I am confident that even without me they would still be 100 percent successful.”