PAKTIYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — It’s 2230, dark, the sound of military vehicles rumble in the motor pool. The soldiers of 1st Platoon, 402nd Sapper Company, huddle together and join hands. With heads bowed and eyes closed, 1st Lt. Kenny Klinner begins to pray.
He thanks God for another day to serve with the men around him and prays for wisdom and protection during the mission ahead. As the men break from prayer, they make their final preparations before heading out to conduct a route clearance patrol in eastern Afghanistan.
This mission is a daily routine for the men of 402nd Sapper Company and resembles any other route clearance patrol across theater. Combat engineers are tasked throughout Afghanistan to clear designated routes of all unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices. This allows the infantry the ability to maneuver freely, Afghan National Army and coalition logistics to be transported safely, and Afghan civilians to travel unharmed.
The imminent roadside bomb threat on Afghan routes makes the patrol a critical task for the continued movement of military units across the battlefield.
On missions, the platoon travels along the designated route looking for IEDs. They focus on picking up enemy patterns, identifying known indicators and coordinating movement through enemy hot spots.
Once the platoon suspects a roadside bomb, they interrogate the site and confirm or deny any emplacement. Because combat engineers are trained on basic demolition, they are authorized to blow the explosive in place and continue their patrol.
“It’s the last real mission that directly correlates to the safety of Afghan civilians,” said Spc. Cory Dums, a machine gunner with the platoon, while scanning his sector and discussing the importance of the route-clearance mission.
Combat engineers conduct route-clearance operations on all major routes throughout Afghanistan. It has been an engineer mission throughout the war.
As the platoon enters the city of Gardez and nears the end of its 10-hour patrol, it is greeted by the hustle and bustle of the morning routine. Business owners begin to set up shops, farmers tend crops, and children play in the fields. It is the sound of the convoy that attracts the young ones to the road. The Afghan children shuffle forward, timid, with their thumbs in the sky as the military convoy passes by. It is a moment of appreciation for the soldiers of 1st platoon, a quick reminder of the important mission they willingly execute every day.