Improving counter improvised explosive device initiatives

5 Apr 2011 | Sgt. Bryan A. Peterson

When Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, the director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, visited the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Ball Center April 5, he wanted to know from the lowest level how to combat improvised explosive devices. His audience: 16 combat-hardened Marines who recently returned from Afghanistan.

Also in attendance were Lt. Gen. John M. Paxton, the II Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general; Brig. Gen. Michael H. Shields, JIEDDO deputy director for operations and training and several other II MEF and JIEDDO staff members.

The goal of the town-hall style meeting was to garner information about how to defeat IEDs from the Marines to bring back to the JIEDDO headquarters at the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C.

Created in 2006, JIEDDO is a joint entity with the mission to reduce or eliminate the effects of all forms of IEDs used against U.S. and coalition forces.

Concerns, such as, the need for placing simulated IED threats in every training evolution during pre-deployment training exercises to having more sophisticated bomb-detecting devices, were just few of the many ideas that were thrown out on the table.

One of the many vocal contributors in the open forum, Sgt. Phillipi Sanz, a platoon squad leader with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, just returned from Afghanistan two months ago and stressed the importance of equipping ground Marines with the latest and greatest gear and also making changes to combat training.

He said while the current pre-deployment training maintains the status quo since both Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom began, the need to modernize the training needs to be done now.

“We need to get away from the check-in-the box training,” said Sanz. “I mean, it’s good that we are receiving combat training before we leave, but the training we receive is not tailored to the situations we are facing in Afghanistan right now.”

Sanz said incorporating IED lanes while Marines are simultaneously conducting land navigation, is just one of many changes that can be implemented.

Sanz created an after action report from his deployment citing numerous concerns he gathered from a myriad of Marines directly in the fight. They ranged from the favorite choice of weapons to the communication problems he and his Marines faced. However, he said it ultimately came down to IEDs.

He recalled a time when he and his Marines entered an Afghan home to look for weapons cache. First, equipped with a compact metal detector, he stepped in the house, and then two more followed his footsteps. Little did he and his Marines know, they all stepped on an IED. Then, the fourth Marine stepped in those same footsteps and the IED detonated. End result: two Marines killed and one wounded.

Sanz said the issue was, at least in this case, not having the right equipment. The IED he and his Marines stepped was equipped with low metallic pressure switches, which are not detectable by CMDs, rather Vallons, which are highly sensitive to the copper wires that insurgents use in these switches. According to Sanz, the Vallons are available, but the right units do not have them.

“From detecting copper wire, to a LMS pressure switch, the CMD will fail every time.  However, there are current battalions in certain areas in Afghanistan who have little to no LMS IED threat or almost no IED threat to begin with,” said Sanz. “Some of these units are being issued them before (other) units whose success hinges on the daily application of an effective LMS detector for mission accomplishment.”

Barbero, who observed 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion Marines training and also visited Marine Special Operations Command after the discussion, said while changes have been implemented, new ideas are always needed.

“Our current ground forces know best as to what can be changed,” said Barbero. “But, nothing should be done in trial and error, because that could cost lives. That’s what this meeting was all about - to get the best ideas from our Marines on the ground.”

Paxton said as Marine units rotate deployments, they can expect new things to pop up, but that takes time.

“As you get back in the cycle, more things will come to you,” Paxton said while addressing the roundtable of Marines. “This is why we are all here sharing information with JIEDDO. Your valuable input from your experiences is going help this organization help you.”

Sanz has also been to Iraq, and though the IEDs were more sophisticated, insurgents in Afghanistan came up with less complex ways to attack U.S. and coalition forces, without focusing too much on the actual complexities of the IED itself.

“In Afghanistan, the insurgents are working smarter, not harder. They didn’t use the leftover artillery pieces like they did in Iraq, rather they used more undetectable devices,” said Sanz. “There is training available, there is equipment available and the way to fix the problem is to train everyone and that can be done without prolonging PTP exercises and to properly equip Marines with the right equipment. If this gets done, we won’t have to sit in the defense anymore.”