Tank crewmen with Company B, 1st Tank Battalion, had to learn another set of skills recently to succeed during their seven-month tour in Afghanistan.
“To go from being tankers to route clearance was a pretty big leap for us,” said 1st Lt. William Fortin, a 24-year-old platoon commander from Selden, N.Y. “If there is any unit that really has an appreciation for this job it’s us, because as tankers you don’t realize the effects of improvised explosive devices the same way as you would if you were route clearance.”
After attaching to 1st Combat Engineer Battalion in August 2009, these tankers learned the basics of route clearance with the help of experienced engineers.
“They learned all the basic fundamentals that route clearance engineers learn and how to apply them in real life,” said 23-year-old Cpl. Mark Hickok, a combat engineer from North Olmstead, Ohio. “At first they were really out of their comfort zone, but after a few training evolutions we started to work as a team.”
Within a few short months, 1st Tanks Marines found themselves in Afghanistan running missions as route clearance platoons.
“It was a big change having to learn how to sweep for IEDs and how to handle the situation if we found one,” said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Barreda, 21, a tank crewman from New Orleans. Barreda is a lead sweeper in his platoon, an important job that requires him to be at the front of any dismounted patrols. “You have to take your time and be really careful because one step could mean the difference between life and death, not just for me, but for the Marines behind me.”
With the increasing threat of IEDs, units need route clearance support more in Afghanistan than tanks.
Relying mostly on their vehicles to hunt down roadside bombs, Marines have to dismount from them in some situations and use other tools to accomplish their mission.
“The dog is another asset we use to find IEDs, whether it is in a building, a road or an open field,” said 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Jon North, a dog handler from Osage, Iowa. “I was glad to be a dog handler and be able to do some good by clearing paths for others to use.”
Bravo Company has been providing route clearance support to coalition forces throughout southern Afghanistan for the past six months, a job that requires them to be on the road constantly in order to keep major roadways safe for friendly forces and local residents.
“It is a dangerous job but it actually makes a difference for everyone out here,” Hickok explained. This is his third deployment with a route clearance platoon. “I feel good knowing that when I do my job, other units can feel confident that the road their about to use is clear.”
With the end of their deployment in sight, these tankers continue to stay focused and carry out their duties confidently.
“All of these guys take this very seriously and it shows when you look at all of the IEDs we’ve found,” Hickok said. “They all deserve to be honorary engineers.”
Article by Cpl. John McCall, 2nd Marine Division