MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Operation Enduring Freedom has lasted from more than a decade, and more than 2,835 service members with coalition forces have given the ultimate sacrifice.
More than 50 percent of those fatalities were cause by improvised explosive devices, according to statistics published by iCasualties.org. Without essential Marines such as combat engineers, who are trained to detect and remove IED threats, the number of lives lost could possibly be greater.
Marines with Company E, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Corps Forces Reserve, hoped to, when deployed, minimize IED threats to help keep their brothers-in-arm safe as they started their route clearance mobile training aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, recently. This was part of their pre-deployment training, which cross trained them from their original military occupational specialty, but made them a qualified provisional engineer unit.
During training course, the Marines learned about the different types of IEDs they could encounter while deployed, and how to detect and remove them with the vehicles and devices implemented in a route clearance.
"These guys are training for 10 days straight," said Garret Czesak, a contracted instructor with Marine Corps Engineer School, MCB Camp Lejeune. "The most challenging part about this training is getting them into the engineer mindset, because these guys are not traditionally trained for this. They're tankers, so we got to teach them to think like an engineer."
Numerous practical application training missions helped the Marines learn how to utilize Huskies, Buffalos and Cougars, which all are mine-resistant ambushed-protected vehicles to support route clearance operations.
The Buffalo was fitted with an arm that could be used to dig up detected IEDs. Three Cougars had gyro-cameras with night and thermal capabilities, and could elevate to offer a better vantage point. One Cougar carried a Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, which is essentially a remote controlled robot used to interrogate and survey areas or object that may be high risk for personnel.
"Teaching route clearance is really trying to teach a thought process," said Kevin Cassel, an instructor with Marine Corps Engineer School, MCB Camp Lejeune. "The vehicles are a small part of it, you can teach anyone how to drive the trucks. But they need to learn how to calculate risks and have a mitigation process continually (going on) in their head as they're going through all these different threats. So teaching the thought process is really hard for these guys."
It was a lot for the tankers to take-in in such a short period of time, but that was compensated by having them perform more supplementary training missions.
"This training was amazing," said Lance Cpl. Thomas Jackson, a maintenance management specialist with Company E, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division. "It definitely meets the standards (for training), especially with it being outside of our MOS. The training showed us our baseline and what our (flaws) were, so we could work to improve ourselves and be ready for the mission. The hardest part about the training was being patient."
According to Czesak, the average time that it takes a unit to complete the mile-long training route on Power Line Road is three hours, which challenged them to detect more than six IEDs.
"Route clearance is an extremely slow mission," said Czesek. "They're traveling at 5 kilometers and hour. It's extremely slow and it's easy to get complacent. They're going to be literally moving three to four miles an hour, so it turns even a short route to a very very long day."
"They've made some great finds, they're pulling together and working as a team," said Kassel. "But, at the same time, they're still missing some - it's just part of the growing (process)."
After graduating from this course, the Marines will continue to Mojave Viper at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty-nine Palms, Calif., to fully complete their route-clearance training with a sustainment course, where they'll be evaluated one last time by instructors before deploying.
"We've progressed a long way, from when we first got here," said Sgt. Michael P. Cheeseman Jr., an ammunition technician with Company E, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division. "We were very eager to learn and we soaked up a lot of knowledge. The biggest challenge was just learning how to negotiate our vehicles, and keeping security at all times for our two lead Huskies. Being able to communicate and move these vehicles on the routes was challenging as well. We take the training serious and we want to improve so that we can properly execute our mission. Without route clearance, nobody can safely move down any route."