Engineers take highway cleanup to a new level

U.S. Army/Spc. Eric A. Rutherford - Three Armored Combat Earthmovers clear debris and obstacles from a four-lane highway while a Bradley fighting vehicle provides security in Mosul, Iraq. Soldiers from the 43rd Combat Engineer Company, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment worked for more than 17 hours to clear more than a kilometer of the route that had been closed to civilian traffic. -

By Spc. Eric A. Rutherford

115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

MOSUL, Iraq — As the sun rose over an area where soldiers were expecting gunfire and bombs, they were met by locals, who curiously watched as armored bulldozers shoved garbage and barriers off the road to make civilian travel easier.

Soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s 43rd Combat Engineer Company, worked to clear Highway One, one of the many impassible roads in Mosul as part of Operation Thunder Reaper IV.

“Highway One is a four-lane expressway that represents the economic heart of western Mosul,” said Maj. John Oliver Jr., operations officer for 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. “Its reopening will improve local and provincial commerce, thereby creating economic opportunities. The road will also improve security for the people of Mosul by offering Iraqi security forces an increased freedom of movement when required.”

The 17-hour mission incorporated engineer construction assets, as well as several other elements from the regiment’s Thunder Squadron.

Soldiers set out to open a section of Route Tampa, one of the city’s main roads that have been closed to traffic.

“When we got here, a lot of these routes were blocked,” said Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Larue, assault and obstacle platoon sergeant. “Now our mission is to go in and make a lot of them open again for regular traffic.”

Larue, of Coppers Cove, said route clearance will be a major role for the 43rd, which recently arrived in the area. The mission, which started at sunrise and ran well into the night, opened more of the route than was expected, Larue said.

The operation consisted of several phases. The first was route reconnaissance searching for roadside bombs and other hazards. After the route clearance phase, Bradley fighting vehicles and M1A2 Abrams tanks provided security in the area so the engineers could work with relative safety to clear the roads. During the operation, there were no casualties, and no notable enemy contact.

“We expected it to be quiet because there were so many moving pieces,” Larue said. “We had units to the north, south, west and east. We had units patrolling and we knew it was going to be quiet today. It is normally a really busy area.”

The next phase of the operation was to use Armored Combat Earthmovers (ACEs) to clear trash and other debris and obstacles from the road. The engineers then placed concrete barriers to better control traffic on the four-lane highway.

“Today we set out to do a large scale route improvement in our sector,” said Sgt. Daniel Preston, a gun system operator with the A&O platoon. “We used our dig assets to improve what was a trash-filled, dirt-filled, improvised explosive device magnet into a four-lane highway with serpentines.”

Larue and Preston provided command and control of the operation from their Buffalo mine resistant, ambush protected vehicle (MRAP), using video cameras and a hydraulic arm to search areas for potential explosive threats. The Buffalo crew found an IED in a crowded intersection, which an explosive ordnance disposal team destroyed.

After the road was cleared of obstacles, the ACEs moved into the route sanitation phase by clearing rubble from buildings and large piles of dirt on the roadsides used to hide bombs. They also cleared large areas of trash to be burned later.

At the end of the mission, the soldiers returned to base, down more than a kilometer of the newly cleared stretch of four-lane highway.

My guys did a kick-butt job today,” Larue said. “Morale was good and high. Even though we are putting in these 18-hour-plus days, I just can’t ask any more of my guys.”

“Infrastructure such as Highway One are what enable major cities such as Mosul to thrive; al-Qaida has made every attempt to keep this unusable,” Oliver said. “By their actions, al-Qaida puts their version of the future for Iraq on display. The (Iraqis) and (coalition forces) see a prosperous future for Mosul and Iraq. The success of Thunder Reaper is just one aspect of that future that can be seen today.”

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