By SOF Editor on Thu, 01/28/2010 - 11:49am
Missouri's "Houn Dawgs" of the 203rd Engineer Battalion are sniffing out improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and rendering them harmless.
Sustained by support from back home, members of the Missouri National Guard -- joined by Soldiers from Georgia, Kansas, South Dakota and Washington -- are prevailing in this dangerous mission.
"We're all very proud to be here representing our state and our nation," Lt. Col. Tony Adrian, the battalion commander, said Tuesday during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.
Considered one of the most dangerous and important missions assigned to the U.S. military, route clearance ensures safety for those traveling Afghanistan's roads - a mission felt across the region.
The 203rd's area of responsibility is about the size of West Virginia, Adrian said.
"It's a constant cat and mouse game with the enemy," he said. "They change their tactics. We change ours. And the cycle goes on."
In addition to the route clearance mission, Adrian said troops are preparing for a surge of forces ordered by President Obama and also training Afghan forces to take over when coalition forces leave.
The Houn Dawgs deployed last fall in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and are expected to leave Afghanistan later this year.
The deployment is the battalion's second in five years. The 203rd served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
The lineage of the 203rd dates back to 1876, and in 1916 it became known as the "Houn' Dawg Outfit" after it was associated with the song, "You Gotta Quick Kickin' My Dog Around."
"One of our biggest [strengths] is the Soldiers themselves," Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Stuenkel said, also by phone from Afghanistan. Soldiers scan for signs of IEDs and monitor how the local populace is acting, often a clue to trouble ahead.
"It does boil down to instinct and the quality of leaders that we have over here," Adrian said, noting the caliber of the young lieutenants who serve as platoon leaders for the Houn Dawgs. "They're able to think on their feet," he said. "They're very ingenious. They've got very good instincts."
The 203rd is well-equipped with Mine Resistant Ambush Protected military vehicles known as MRAPs, rocket-propelled grenade cages and detection devices that include ground-penetrating radar, infrared and thermal optics and electrical jamming devices, Stuenkel said.
"Technology is one of our strengths here in this fight," Adrian said. "The technology we have ... is shared with our coalition partners."
And the 203rd's citizen-Soldiers are well-trained, he said. More people volunteered for the mission than the Houn Dawgs could use, he said. "We didn't have any trouble filling the ranks and getting our forces up-to-strength."
Soldiers encounter IEDs tripped by pressure plates, radio control or command wires, the command sergeant major said.
Adrian said the ratio of IEDs found and cleared is one measure of effectiveness - a figure that currently stands at about 75 percent.
"We do very well on that," he said. "Right now, during the winter, it is a slow season for IEDs in most areas. That is all going to change come the warmer weather."
The 203rd commands, controls and supports three Guard sapper companies in Afghanistan - its own 1141st Engineer Company out of Kansas City, Mo.; the 211st Engineer Company out of South Dakota and the 810th Engineer Company out of Georgia.