- Posted January 27, 2014 by
Clearing Highway One
Joint Task Force Sapper
GHAZNI, Afghanistan – Snow and ice covered the ground as heavy armored vehicles, filled with highly trained combat engineers, rolled from the gates of forward operating base Ghazni for another mission. Engineers from the 216th Mobile Augmentation Company, U.S. Army National Guard from Long Beach, California, set out to clear a stretch of Highway 1, or “Ring Road,” that connects all major cities in Afghanistan.
Capt. Robert Bejarano, the 216th company commander, described the importance of his unit’s mission the night before the patrol. He explained that “everything here in Afghanistan is route centric, and as engineers, we are the ones keeping the roads open and useable for our fellow brothers and sisters in arms.”
Bejarano expressed confidence in his team and said, “We can impose our will on Highway 1 whenever and wherever we want; my guys have not failed to complete a single mission – we win tactical victories every day.”
And the 216th MAC has been able to do exactly that. Over halfway into their nine-month deployment, the company has completed over 50 missions along this route with a 100 percent find rate for improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in their area.
The engineer motto of “Essayons” is translated to “Let us try.” Bejarano’s team embraces that motto as they tackle the dangerous task of clearing a strategic highway still active with Taliban insurgents. While on patrol members from 1st Platoon pointed out the location of their last engagement with the enemy, a fire fight that resulted in their medic earning a valorous award and others earning Combat Action Badges.
Although not assigned to this unit, the company welcomed me as part of their team. Bejarano expressed that “everyone who leaves the wire with us on a mission is part of the family.” For the 216th MAC, that family bond extends beyond their American brothers and sisters. Every time one of Bejarano’s platoons clears a route, they are accompanied by either Polish Sappers or U.S. Army infantrymen.
This unique multi-national approach to missions developed through the transformation of route clearance patrols (RCP) into combined arms route clearance operations (CARCO.)
Standing in the packed company tactical operations center the night before the patrol, 1st Lt. Minkyu Park and Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Williams, the platoon leader and platoon sergeant in charge of the upcoming mission explained their task and purpose for the next day.
Every individual who would leave the forward operating base attended the brief, and took notes as Park and Williams’ spoke. Each member of the team, to include the drivers, heavy machine gunners, and dismounted and mounted medics understood he needed to understand how to execute the mission from beginning to end.
Soldiers asked questions which allowed the platoon to discuss contingency operations if something did not go as planned. The platoon leader and platoon sergeant valued each individual’s input, and acknowledged that everyone brought a unique perspective and skill to the patrol.
At the conclusion of the brief, I received a pair of “yak-trax,” the Army’s version of an ice-traction device for your combat boots. In the middle of winter the platoon was prepared to walk through knee deep snow and over uneven terrain to complete their mission, so I needed to be too.
Although the next morning required a pre-dawn wake up into very cold night air, nothing fazed the Soldiers of 1st Platoon. Each member bustled around and ensured their personal equipment, vehicles, and weapons were ready to go. The platoon executed their pre-mission checks with efficiency and accuracy.
Like clockwork, the individual vehicles manned by Americans and Polish, Soldiers and NCOs, enlisted and officers, fell in line bringing the single pieces of the puzzle together to create a coherent team for the day’s mission.
Everyone huddled together one last time before departure. Park hit the highlights of his previous night’s brief and provided an up-to-date intelligence report. Williams went around the group and asked random individuals to back brief parts of the mission. Everyone synced.
The circle tightened right before people dispersed to their vehicles. The men wrapped their arms around one another, and with heads bowed, prayed for protection, wisdom, and clarity.
Instead of shying away from their dangerous mission, 1st Platoon of the 216th MAC courageously went out looking for hazards along the road in order to allow freedom of maneuver for personnel and equipment in their area of operation. Many leaders say there can never be too many Engineers on the battle field. Bejarano agreed and boldly stated, “We will look back on this time and realize we participated in the heyday of the engineers’ mission since World War II!”