37th EN Battalion Keeping Streets Safe

Sgt Keith VanKlompenberg
139th MPAD, 13th SC(E)

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — The Soldiers from 2nd platoon, A Company, 37th Engineers Battalion put themselves in harm’s way everyday so the Iraqi population and Coalition Forces can have a bit more peace of mind when they travel the roads surrounding Joint Base Balad.

Patrolling routes much slower than a standard convoy, the engineers on these route clearance missions observe the terrain and villages for the most minute changes that could signify a possible Improvised Explosive Device or ambush site.

“We try and collect as much as we can about the local population,” said Sergeant 1st Class Chad Etzel, platoon sergeant of 2nd platoon.

Etzel, a Houston native on his third deployment to Iraq, said his convoy has to move slowly enough to pick up every little detail.

“The little things merge into a big picture,” said Etzel, “and it might be that little thing that matters in the end.”

“We’re not your traditional route clearance team,” said 1st Lt. Jonathan McCloud, platoon leader in charge of 2nd platoon.

McCloud said they have all the technology and equipment, but lack the Explosive Ordinance Disposal personnel that would make up a typical route clearance unit.

“We have the ability to interrogate and confirm IEDs without leaving our vehicles,” said McCloud.

McCloud said his Soldiers have the skills and expertise to find IEDs, but still rely on other teams to analyze and disarm or dispose of more complex devices.

“We refer some expertise to EOD just like everyone else.”

McCloud said having the technology and training isn’t enough when it comes to route clearance and the Iraqi Army often has the advantage.

 “We may have the best equipment, but the human eye and knowledge of the local area is the most important thing,” said McCloud.

He said the Iraqi Army is taking a larger role is these types of operations and their presence is building confidence in their ability to take control as Coalition Forces execute the responsible drawdown of troops from Iraq.

McCloud and Etzel said their troops rely on their instincts and eyes just as much as their Iraqi counterparts.

“There’s no book on this,” said Etzel.

“You’re not going to be trained on this until you get on the ground and do it,” he said.

McCloud said on a recent mission he thought he saw some wire strewn across the road through his vehicle’s optics system.  He said the closer they got, the more he believed it was wire, until someone got close enough to see it without the optics.  McCloud said the supposed wire was actually just a stream of water.

His team made fun of him for days after the incident, he said.

Etzel said the teasing is how his Soldiers stay in the game.  He said they play games and joke around with each other to deal with the monotony of long missions.

“There are long hours of boredom broken up by seconds of pure terror,” said Etzel.

“The intent is not to distract, but to keep us in the right mindset,” Etzel said of the games.

“You gotta have fun with it,” said Pfc. Michael Joseph, a combat engineer with A Co., as he prepared his vehicle to go out on another mission.

“It keeps us awake, keeps us thinking and keeps us vigilant,” said Joseph.

 

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(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

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A Soldier with A Co. prepares the turret on his vehicle before heading out to search for IEDs near JBB.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

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Every vehicle undergoes a rigorous Preventative Maintainance Checks and Services inspection before the convoy can leave JBB.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

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Pfc. Dennis (awaiting last name by way of email) scans his sector for any signs of IEDs or a possible ambush, during a route clearance mission near JBB.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

 

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Spc. Gregory Liggins loads the weapons system on a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle in preparation for a route clearance mission.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

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Liggins, a combat engineer with 2nd platoon, A Co., 37th Engineers Battalion prepares the unmanned turret on an MRAP before heading out to clear IEDs from routes surrounding JBB.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

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Pfc. Michael Joseph, a combat engineer with 2nd platoon, washes the windows on his vehicle before the night's mission.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

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Joseph, a Jersey City, N.J. native on his first deployment, prepares the MRAP which he will drive for the route clearance mission.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)