Route training saves lives

6 Nov 2008 | Cpl. Jessica Martinez

He sits alone in an immense, steel machine, focusing intently on the task at hand … searching for staged improvised explosive devices. The space in the vehicle limits him to how freely he can maneuver and power the vehicle. He is trying to follow a specific pathway which could not only save his life but the lives of his fellow Marines.

This is just one task Camp Pendleton Marines were faced with while they attended the Engineering Center of Excellence on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to learn how to operate and maneuver combat vehicles during the Route Clearance Operators Course.

The mentally demanding course is two weeks long. The first week students spend concentrated time in the classroom learning about the three vehicles on which they’ll be trained. During the second week, the class is broken into two groups, and the students begin their hands-on training where they apply what they learned in the classroom setting.

During the second stage, the class practiced steering, controlling and driving the wild beasts of mine detection and protection on “hardball” roads. This also gave Marines mileage toward their Category One, Two and Three licenses.

Students who attended the course were either combat engineers or training to become one. The three beast-like vehicles used were the Husky mine detector vehicle, and the Buffalo and Cougar, which are both mine resistant, ambush protected vehicles.

“This is a great opportunity for Marines,” said 2nd Lt. Stephen F. Strieby, with Mobility Assault Company, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division. “They’re able to learn the baseline of conducting route clearance. The course provides time for Marines to familiarize themselves with equipment, controls of vehicles and how they handle. Everything is in one place and the staff has firsthand experience in what they are teaching the students.”

The training enables Marines to use the Husky’s mine detector to hunt for improvised explosive devices. Marines learn how to maneuver forward and backward, without power steering, while solely relying on the vehicle’s mirrors to stay in their imprinted tire tracks on a zigzag course. Marines drive the same tracks to prevent them from rolling over IEDs in areas they haven’t already covered.

While one student was concentrating on his driving techniques in the enormous metal machine, another student, only 30 meters away, was focused on a different hunt.

When students train on the Buffalo, they learn how to perform arm interrogations while looking for IEDs. Arm interrogations are performed by using the vehicles long claw-like arm to dig and shift through the dirt, like a wild animal looking for its kill, while looking for simulated IEDs and connected components. The arm has a camera attached to it which allows the Marines controlling it inside the vehicle to peer onto the ground for indications of its prey.

The instructors teaching the course are prior military and share their experiences with the students not only in the classroom, but as they put into action what they were taught.

“The instructors are awesome,” said Cpl. Seth G. Perrin, combat engineer, with the company. “They’re very knowledgeable on each machine, route clearance and give tips to the students.”

The class size is kept small to allow more training for each Marine. This class had 12 students, but the course can take up to 16.

“This is the first time we’ve had a route clearance course on Camp Lejeune,” said Nick Naquin, instructor and contractor with the Engineer Center of Excellence, Route Clearance Team Lead, Explosive Hazards Branch, Route Clearance Mobile Training Cadre. “We are a mobile training unit, which allows us to go to units who request the training.”

Near the conclusion of the course, Marines set out on missions set up by the instructors. During these hunts, the students applied what they learned and received feedback on areas they need to improve.

“I like the course,” said Lance Cpl. Kasey J. Blais, combat engineer, with the company. “We are taught so much here, and the hands-on training is where we can really learn. It’s the best part of the course.”