Monday, December 04, 2006

Soldiers clear routes with the Buffalo

By Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT PAO, 10th Mtn. Div.

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — Improvised explosive devices have been a problem for both the Iraqi people and the U.S. military since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division have been doing their best to reduce the numbers and effects of IEDs – finding caches containing materials for over a thousand IEDs, patrolling roads to prevent placement of them and building civil relations to discourage people from setting them at all – but some still remain. To get rid of them, there is Operation Iron Claw.
Using what is officially known as the Mine Protected Vehicle-Buffalo, or just “the Buffalo,” the Soldiers of Company A, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion and attached Soldiers from Company A, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment patrol roads in slow route-clearing convoys on a regular basis.
“I enjoy the mission,” said said Sgt. Brandon Hasson of Hubert, N.C., a Soldier assigned to Co. A, 4-31 and a Buffalo operator. “It’s a good task, and it makes me feel good, knowing I helped somebody not get injured, whether we find something or not. If we didn’t find anything, it means there’s no bad guys around, and if we do find something, it’s just that much more rewarding.”
Armored Humvees protect the Buffalo and the “Husky,” a contraption that looks like a road grader, said Hasson. But the Husky, instead of a blade, carries a very sensitive metal detector. The Husky passes over the road, and when it senses a metal object that could be an IED, it marks the spot with paint, Hasson said. The Buffalo takes over from there.
Watching on the camera and using the movable iron arm and claw – hence the operational name – the Soldier in the passenger seat of the vehicle carefully digs away whatever is covering the possible IED. When it is laid bare, Explosive Ordnance Disposal moves in and neutralizes the threat.
“This vehicle is able to pinpoint, open up and expose a round for EOD to dispose of,” Hasson said.
But sometimes even the most careful manipulation will trigger an IED, especially those made with volatile homemade explosives. The Buffalo’s thick armor makes it nearly impervious to blasts, but missions can still be a little unnerving, said Hasson.
“When we were out at the Yusufiyah Thermal Power Plant, there were two directional charges up on the wall. I had to go in with the arm to get them and pull them out of the sand piles, and put them out on the road for EOD without them blowing up…. I don’t worry about it too much, because we’re protected. But there’s still some fear, because anything manmade will err,” Hasson said.
Sgt. John Slempkes of Green Bay, Wisc., has even more faith in the vehicle.
“You’re not going to get hurt in a Buffalo,” he countered.
The Buffalo have weathered tremendous numbers of explosions – including anti-tank mines, according to online defense news magazine Defense Update.
The magazine cited an example of a Buffalo in Iraq that ran over an anti-tank round. The blast blew off a wheel and destroyed an axle, but no one was hurt inside the vehicle, and the Buffalo drove to safety on its own, was repaired overnight and back in service the next day.
The 2nd BSTB has discovered and neutralized 21 IEDs since the transfer of authority on Sept. 20, on missions that happen almost every day, rain or shine, said Hasson.
The Soldiers who drive the Buffalo constantly – there are route-clearing missions going on nearly all the time – know that their efforts are critical to the brigade’s safe transport, and 2nd BCT Soldiers who perform the route-clearing missions will go on, as engineer Soldiers do all over Iraq, as long as the 2nd BCT is deployed.
“Without this vehicle,” said Hasson, “The mission cannot go.”

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