37th Engineer Battalion Keeping Streets Safe
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, which could indicate a possible improvised explosive device or ambush site.
"We try and collect as much as we can about the local population," said Sgt. 1st Class Chad Etzel, platoon sergeant of second platoon.
Etzel, a Houston native on his third deployment to Iraq, said his convoy has to move slowly enough to
"The little things merge into a big picture," said Etzel. "It might be that little thing that matters in the end."
First Lt. Jonathan McCloud, the platoon leader of second platoon, said the team can interrogate suspects and confirm improvised explosive devices without leaving their vehicles.
"We're not your traditional route clearance team," he said.
McCloud said they have the technology and equipment, and 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, he said.
"We refer some expertise to EOD, just like everyone else," McCloud said.
McCloud said the Iraqi army is taking a larger role in 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.
"We may have the best equipment, but the human eye and knowledge of the local area is the most important thing," said McCloud.
Etzel said Soldiers 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."
McCloud said on a recent mission he thought he saw some wire strewn across the road through his vehicle's optics system. The closer they got, the more he believed it was wire, until someone got close enough to see it without the optics. The supposed wire was actually just a stream of water, said McCloud.
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.
"There are long hours of boredom broken up by seconds of pure terror," said Etzel.
He said moments like McCloud's phantom wire story occupy a very small fraction of mission time. Games and jokes are used to deal with the monotony of long missions.
"The intent is not to distract, but to keep us in the right mindset," Etzel said.
While Soldiers in some vehicles pass the time by teasing each other, Pfc. Michael Joseph, a combat engineer with A Co., plays trivia games and tries to stump his battle buddies.
"You've got to have fun with it," said Joseph, as he prepared his vehicle to go out on another mission. "It keeps us awake, keeps us thinking and keeps us vigilant."