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Operation Trailblazer Makes Iraqi Roads Safer

By Sgt. Matthew Acosta, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq, Feb. 9, 2005 – In an effort to make Iraqi roads safer for fellow soldiers, a U.S Army Reserve company of combat engineers patrol selected roads near Baqubah, searching for "trouble" in a mission called Operation Trailblazer.

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Army Reservists Spc. James Acker, left, and Sgt. Michael Cochran, top, combat engineers with the 467th Engineer Battalion scan traffic stopped 100 meters ahead for suspicious vehicles. The unit searches for improvised explosive devices along the sides of roads in Baqubah, Iraq. The roads are searched several times daily. Photo by Sgt. Matthew Acosta, USA

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Soldiers from Company A, 467th Engineer Battalion, Memphis, Tenn., recently took over operations from the 141st Engineer Battalion, North Dakota National Guard, at Forward Operating Base Warhorse.

Their mission is to search pre-determined supply routes in the Baqubah area for improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists.

"Our job is to go out and look for trouble in the form of IEDs planted near the sides of roads," said Sgt. 1st Class Dallas Bryan, combat engineer.

With teams of 18 soldiers or more, the Trailblazers set out on convoys of several supporting vehicles and one "Buffalo," scouring the roadside for signs of terrorist activity.

The Buffalo, a ground mine-detection system, uses a hydraulic arm to sift through trash piles or probe areas where the convoy suspects IEDs might been hidden.

"Between a few rotating teams, we search the roads several times a day looking for conspicuous things that might be used to conceal explosives, such as piles of trash, containers or anything that looks like it's out of the ordinary, like freshly patched potholes in the road or new road signs close to the road's edge," Bryan said.

If an IED is confirmed, the unit marks the site and calls for an explosive ordnance disposal unit to neutralize the device.

Bryan said since the 467th has taken over, it has been credited with finding three explosive devices in its first few days of patrols.

Although the unit travels at a relatively slow rate of speed, the fear of being attacked doesn't faze the crew much, Bryan said.

"We really can't drive too fast because by the time we see a device it'll be too late to stop before it goes off on us or the next vehicle," he said. "We need to keep a slow steady pace and if we suspect something, we call in the Buffalo. Of course it makes us a good target, but that's not something we normally think about."

Normally the Trailblazers cruise the routes looking for explosives but sometimes they will encounter a vehicle they think needs to be searched because of a tip from an Iraqi traffic checkpoint.

Since the operation has started, countless numbers of ordnance and IEDs have been removed from the streets of Iraq, saving potential casualties, Bryan said.

"As long as we have an eventful day finding an IED or two, that's one less possible casualty," he said. "And if we don't have an eventful day, then it's another quiet day for us, and that's not a bad thing either."

(Army Sgt. Matthew Acosta is assigned to the 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Reserve combat engineers with the467th Engineer Battalion employ the "Buffalo" to search suspicious trash piles thought to contain or hide improvised explosive devices. The vehicle's hydraulic arm is used to prove the suspected sites. If an IED is found, the unit calls the explosive ordnance disposal unit and closes the road until the device is neutralized. Photo by Sgt. Matthew Acosta, USA  
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