Dismount Considerations During Route Clearance Operations,
Threat analysis of the area and explosive hazard trends. Type of munitions and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) found, type of emplacement, type of attacks, and type of triggers.
It is not uncommon to find yourself in an Area of Operations (AO), where you will be forced outside of your comfort zone . . . Otherwise, where is the fun in the job?
Many unconventional methods must be embraced in order to conduct a full spectrum type of clearance operation. You must be compliant with the local threat, in conjunction with the terrain, maneuverability of your equipment and personnel on the limited surfaces, and plan to fail, per the reliability of your equipment. Rely on nothing.
This lesson is primarily drawn from an AO on my fourth uniformed vacation abroad, as I believe this is when I perfected the art in my very own mad, and special way. The general area of operations was East Iraqi farmland and Iranian border mountainous terrain. The roads were restricted, and more often than not, a single-lane or trail with a canal or berm on one or both sides of your avenue of approach.
The insurgents in the area used the constricted terrain to their advantage by planting victim-operated IEDs and land mines on choke points and sites crossing the canals. Owning and knowing the terrain was a great advantage for the insurgents in this area, and they shaped the earth well. In combination with maximizing their maneuverability and terrain manipulation, the insurgents also took to action through innovation and deliberately set to counter our detection capabilities. On the ground, they directionalized explosive hazards by exploiting the heavy amount of wreckage from the Iraq–Iran war, our long-gone predecessor units, and the subsequent impact craters throughout the AO.
As a result, we then became immediate victims of our inexperience in the AO, and our desire to accomplish the mission. It took several IED strikes before we fine-tuned our approach through our designs and the use of support elements such as tactical air, primarily the forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera-equipped helicopter support.
The enemy relied heavily on dirt bikes and other types of light off-road vehicles to conduct their operations. Including, but not limited to seeding the routes with IEDs.
In this place, the bad guys did not choose to stand and fight, but employed guerrilla hit and/or plant and run techniques.
This type of insurgent relies heavily on travel through the miles of dirt and cement irrigation canals to avoid detection and cache equipment. Luckily, technology was on our side via helicopter FLIR and our own FLIR capabilities that became an excellent tool to identify ground disturbances – when available, and working. Even so, through our abilities and the bad-guys operations, we devised our counter.
In a perfect world, mechanical clearance is the way to go – using two Husky’s followed by a gun truck typically with mine rollers such as an RG31-MK-5 or an RG-33L or another Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) gun truck with the Robot, and the Buffalo to interrogate suspected devices. Then a trail medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) Caiman, followed-on with at least one additional MRAP gun truck(s) or armor/tank supplemented support. All vehicles with the exception of the Huskies while in detection mode would use current Counter Remote Electronic Warfare (CREW) devices. Otherwise your basic, friendly, neighborhood, Counter-IED (CIED) route clearance patrol – Another day, of clearing the way.
Initially, we thought that we could get away with countering enemy tactics by ensuring that the Husky performed a good sweep in overpass mode over the choke points. But this was a fail. Metal throughout the AO, such as the remains of past battle damaged coalition vehicles, the Iran/Iraq War, irrigation pipes, and other debris hindered standard Husky detection in this danger zone, making it a nearly impossible task. That is, without blowing up some multi-million dollar equipment in the process.
We also attempted another approach, placing mine detonation trailers on the Husky’s to catch anything missed. Yet, this was an idea from paper and it disabled the Husky’s ability to maneuvered and detect . . . And after our initial attempt with the mine-det trailers, the Husky drove over the suspected area – clear – until my truck, which was a nice truck, and following the Husky – god damn it.
The next attempt to counter the threat was also off-the-shelf. We placed mine rollers on the front of the trucks to perform a modified herringbone sweep of the known danger areas to detonate any possible explosive hazards in the area. But this was also not always effective, as the IEDs and mines were erratically placed with varying methods; just as well, the terrain was not always our friend.
This lame, standard approach created an arduous process as the danger area was first cleared with a Husky and then the rollers. The resulting, extended execution of a herringbone sweep over each suspected area was not effective nor reasonable. We’re not EOD, we have shit to do and they wouldn’t let us pack in a cooler of beer to pass the time . . . Lame-asses.
So, to meet madness with method, we opted that the best approach when the machines failed, was to just go and do the damned thing, by hand. We set to halt, establish security, and dismount a team to sweep the area manually with an AN/PSS-14 mine detector and probing equipment . . . You know it was me who thought that up and did it, and it was no more over into the twilight zone that sitting in that damned oven of a truck . . . Hoping to not have your ass ripped out by the deathly ravages of random hellfire.
We’re the maniacs the Army sends forth to make sure it is safe enough for everyone else to follow-on – yay, us! So the reality of remains, in the truck or out of the truck – it made no matter.
This approach was extremely effective, although sometimes engulfing of the soul – cleansing, yet exhaustive. Even so, dismounting led to a dramatic decrease in strikes and forced the insurgents to attempt to change their tactics to something more effective.
The insurgents immediately attempted a shift from using rigged artillery projectiles, land mines, mortar rounds. To one to ten-gallon plastic jugs, and other difficult to detect IEDs. The jugs were filled with homemade explosive (HME,) which was typically rigged with some form of a battery pack. These IEDs were initiated through contact of a victim-operated switch that would connect the negative and positive of the battery to complete the circuit.
IED construction is really easier to put together than installing a light switch in your home . . . So easy, a caveman can do it.
We were still able to defeat this tactic through the manual sweep and we would catch it in threat areas where we dismounted. Yet, this also meant that mechanical became even more ineffective. An issue that manifested due to the extremely low amount of pressure that is required to activate this type of switch, even a Husky in land mine overpass mode would activate it.
The insurgents also started planted IEDs, buried within the road, and alongside many roads, routes, passes, and trails. This methodology worked heavily in their favor because typically everything was unpaved and could be dug up and sealed over with water so you could hardly tell the difference.
A complication that was compounded, as the FLIR was also not always accurate or functioning. Amplify these complex difficulties was visibility; our line of sight was constantly obscured.
After all, your eyes are your greatest asset when looking for bombs. Albeit, a challenge, for anyone to visually detect a possible – buried IED – threat from inside a large tactical vehicle, while traveling down a bumpy and dusty path, as communicating, planning, and scanning. Our missions were day and night and averaged in-between sixteen and seventy hours, simply depending on what was happen. Fatigue was a constant enemy, although the Army was kind enough to supply us steadily with ‘Rip It’ drinks to fuel our attention spans.
Additionally, identifying any such danger indicators due to limited discoloration or deformation of the ground, was nigh impossible. All the crack in a can in the world, unfortunately, does not give you X-Ray vision.
God damn, it was miserable, but at least we were out there and doing something . . . Unlike the fools on their cell-phone as the large bases, let them eat their Burger King, their Pizza Hut and make t-shirts with “Mortaritaville,” printed on them. They can have their uninvolved deployment, and claim their psychological deterioration as they heard a mortar impact a mile away – it’s sad but true . . . So many FOBBITs with tall-tales.
While, we were magnificent, yet clumsy animals. For me, tt was junior high all over again, and I just drank a 40 oz of malt liquor and was now attempting to wildly grope for some boob. The road was as hazardous as my date – unknown, inexperienced, and random. Yet, the excitement was the moment – forward!
Getcha Kit – Planning for Adventure
The two next points may seem redundant and yet they are both often overlooked, although it is highly recommended. As you never know what may happen when you’re disconnected from your main element. The likelihood of being beyond the line of sight of your element is, very real.
When the shit goes down, you better be ready.
GOTWA (5 Point Contingency Plan)
- Going where.
- Others going with.
- Time now, Time Return.
- What to do if I don’t return.
- Actions to take if I’m hit or Actions to take it you’re hit.
Live or die, by GOTWA and the five principles. Communicate and plan with your element.
Five Principals of Patrolling
- Common Sense
The “no shit, sherlock” of being a crunchie on the ground.
Once you have identified the danger area, a cloverleaf pattern is the best option to sweep the area, although a linear approach is all the terrain can offer at times. Be prepared to find things in the oddest places and be versatile. Mission, enemy, terrain, and weather, troops and support available, time available, civil considerations (METT-TC,) will determine your parameters.
Always have a means to express yourself.
- Smoke – with a color code for actions. Also useful for smoking out them terrorists!
- Dismount radio, preferably an MBITR or other encrypted handheld radios – on a piece of 550 cord or similar line. There is a real risk that communications equipment can set off an explosive . . . Especially IED’s, which are designed to be triggered as such. Don’t trust the CREW signals to block it all.
- Monitor the tactical air or higher echelon when possible. Hot spots, movement, and finds will assist you, and will come.
Your On-Person Packing List, in a Perfect World
Bring no more people than you have to; two additional is typically more than enough.
- Mine-probe; titanium and/or fiberglass – On those rare occasions that you find some soil that is soft enough to use them properly – do so.
- Pocket knife of multi-tool – For digging, prying, or whatever you feel brave enough to do. Also just good to have.
- Surefire style light – For culverts, tunnels, bridges, and things that go bump in the night
- M4 or pistol grip shotgun – I always had both in the truck, but when I dismounted, it depended on my mood and mission. The M4 is of course for point targets in open terrain. I preferred the shotgun while in the canals or other tight spaces for its spread, it is also a great tool to open up a confined or stubborn space.
- M9 pistol – Excellent in a tough spot – or to get your point across. A pistol commands more respect that a tank from many indigenous peoples because pistols were the weapons of authority under most totalitarian regimes. It’s also good to have a backup and sometimes your friends have to hold you upside down to look in a hole and you ain’t holding a rifle from that.
- M9 Bayonet – Probe assist, in
rough terrain. You are not going to get a probe through the type of terrain we were dealing with. So improvise, the detector would identify a metallic object, then use the ground penetrating radar to estimate the size. I would add about 6 inches to this size and start stabbing away at the dirt encircling the object until I could either loosen up the soil enough to identify it or clear it.
- Smoke Grenades and Flares – For clearing out spider holes, and confined spaces, and to signal – set colors of smoke and flares in your planning process ie; lift, and shift fire.
- Zip ties, electrical tape, and 550 cord – MacGyver
- IR and white or red light strobe – Command and signal
- High and low visibility hazard marking material – For marking hazards
**And yes, of course, substitute for better, or don’t. I’m not your father . . . And don’t care about whatever expensive cool crap in suggested substitution. I’m consistently balling on a budget.
Pack Up Your Truck
Weapon system and vehicle mounted equipment, as per your mission. Otherwise, pack your mule well – why waste a resource.
- Upgraded Warrior Aid and Litter Kit (WALK) – Add to, and pack for blood and burns.
- Litters, deployed
- Prepared demolition charges – Plan for the worst, hope for the best – Set general blow in place, as exploration charges, or destruction charges; prime to your liking and knowledge.
- Site exploitation kit
- Launch and manual grapnel hooks – Your robot will die for any reason and the Buffalo will most likely be out of service. Yet there is always something funky in the road, and you are already up front – tie it off, employ it, duck and cover – repeat.
- AN/PSS 14 or like mine-detector Ground Penetrating Radar enhanced (GPR,) is a must
- Frequencies, batteries, and reports.
- As many fire extinguishers as you can affix
- Battle Damage Assessment and Repair (BDAR) kit
- Enemy Prisoner of War (EPW) kit
- Urban manual breaching kit
- Food, Water, Fuel, Oil
- Plentiful and various ammunition, pyro, and explosives.
- A smart toolset (tanker bar, shovel, ax, loaded toolbox, sledge, pick mattock, and etc.)
Most Sappers want EOD the hell away from them, and vice-versa. One way to ensure that you’ll never have to deal with the queens of drama is through conducting an outstanding site analysis and explosive assessment pre and post-blast analysis. You’re collecting data about the explosives used and evidence for tactical and criminal analysis.
- Explosives Detection Identification Field Test Kit (EXPRAY)
- Zip lock bags (variety of sizes)
- Paper bags (variety of sizes)
- Ruler 12” and a 100′ tape measure – You can also measure know dimensions- such as weapons.
- Digital camera (batteries, excess storage)
- Writing, marking, and documenting materials
- Area and mission specific technical reference data – don’t guess, look it up
- Always wear gloves while handling evidence!
Be on the look-out for an orange and white taxi . . . I mean Part II – the conclusion!
All Images, Video, and Media via Buck Clay.