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Route clearance patrols, the men out front

By 1st Lt. Jessica Jackson , 223 Engineer Battalion

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KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (April 30, 2012) — The first to encounter the threat of potential improvised explosive devices is one of the most dangerous jobs of a route clearance patrol soldier. Two soldiers in the 182nd Engineer Company exhibit extreme courage on a daily basis by operating the Husky Mounted Detection System.

U.S. Army Spc. Francis Cremone of Arlington, Mass., and U.S. Army Spc. Joaquin Valera of Boston, are both Husky drivers and ground penetrating radar operators for the 1st Platoon, 182nd Engineer Company, 223rd Engineer Battalion. These driver operators are in front of the route clearance patrols while clearing roads outside of Forward Operating Base Sakari Kharez. 

The importance of their job is realized every day as local nationals and coalition forces are able to safely use the roads. While in front, the Husky drivers are the eyes of the platoon– making sure to catch the threat before it catches them.

“Sometimes there is a lot of pressure,” said Valera. “When we get to the route, we look at the surroundings to see what has changed since the last time. If nothing has changed, it kind of takes the pressure off.”

During their deployment, they have conducted hundreds of missions clearing thousands of kilometers of routes in southern Afghanistan. U.S. Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Salzberg, the platoon leader from New Gloucester, Mass., explains how his platoon’s job is vital to efforts in Afghanistan.

“We clear routes to allow freedom of maneuver for resupply of the COBs [Combat Operating Base] and FOBs [Forward Operation Base] out at the more rural parts, which is very important,” Salzberg said. “And we clear in direct operations so the maneuver elements have freedom to complete their objective.” 

Huskies are usually the lead element when clearing routes by playing a critical part in conducting route clearance operations. This especially hazardous position provides the drivers with a sense of pride and accomplishment when they find IEDs before any equipment or personnel becomes damaged or injured.

With the pride and accomplishment also comes the reality that they are all that is between the route clearance package and the enemy. 

“We’re looking for indicators; no matter how you slice it, when you’re in the lead. In the Husky your first thing is to look for indicators,” said Cremone.

“I think they do an excellent job. We pick up a lot of hits, being able to distinguish between those and driving the Husky – it takes a lot. They do a great job!” said Salzberg.