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Australian engineers step out into danger

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In war, a soldier is placed in situations where a measure of bravery becomes a necessary part of daily affairs. Soldiers know and accept the risk they place themselves in every day and understand the consequences.

But there are always those who stand above their fellow men courageously, embracing extreme danger to protect their brothers in arms.

The soldiers of the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment, Royal Australian Engineers are such men.

The 2nd CER soldiers serving in Afghanistan have a myriad of jobs, including bridge building, demolitions and mobility support. The most dangerous job, however, is high-risk search.

“High-risk search is a crazy job. Instead of sitting in an armored vehicle, we’re in front of it protecting the armored vehicle,” said Sapper Christopher Blair, a 2nd CER soldier from Melbourne, Australia.

Searching for Improvised Explosive Devices to stop them from harming vehicles and soldiers is an important job and the engineers willingly place themselves between their comrades and danger.

“It’s pretty much an engineer’s war out here,” Blair said.
According to Homeland Security Market Research, the number of Improvised Explosive Devices used in Afghanistan has increased 400 percent since 2007. With the prevalence of IEDs in Afghanistan, combat engineers have become a critical asset for NATO forces.

The life of a combat engineer is dangerous and it takes a special kind of courage to step into a role where each footstep could bring death.

“It’s exciting, really. Its an adrenaline rush finding IEDs because you are out in front of 15-ton armored vehicles making sure they don’t get hurt,” said Sapper Andrew David Essery, a 2nd CER soldier from Olsenville, Australia.

If engineers weren’t blazing a trail to safety, freedom of movement in Afghanistan would be very limited.

“Without engineers serving as mobility support we wouldn’t be able to get where we need to safely,” Blair said.

A decade of war in Afghanistan has seen an evolution in the way conventional forces fight an insurgency, and coalition leadership relies on engineers to deny the enemy resources by finding hidden caches.

“You will have a bomb maker that will cache an IED for an insurgent to take later and place in the road. They will also cache their weapons after they shoot at coalition forces. We try to find those caches so they can’t use those resources,” said Sapper Benjamin McDonald, from Brisbane, Australia.

High-risk searching is a job that takes a variety of equipment to accomplish, but the most valuable tool the engineers have doesn’t run on batteries: it is one of flesh and blood.

“Sometimes, depending on the type of the ground or IED, you have to use fingers and prodders,” said Blair, who has been an engineer since the start of 2011. “A lot of searching is through your eyes, not your equipment.”

McDonald recently had his first find on the Kalak Hode 5 clearance operation, Sept. 7, in the Khas Uruzgan District of Uruzgan province.

“I found a Pakistani anti-personnel mine, remote-control IED components, and an ammunitions cache,” said McDonald. “Finding that stuff made me feel awesome, I was really happy.”

Every day these soldiers place themselves in situations filled with danger. They do it with a smile and a laugh, knowing that by risking themselves, they may save a brother, a comrade, or a friend.

Essery said, “Finding those bombs is a big reward really because you are protecting your mates. I enjoy that.”

Article by Spc. Nevada Jack Smith, 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment