Story and Photos by
1st Lt. Kyle Suchomski
95th Engineer Company (Clearance), 65th Eng. Battalion, 130th Eng. Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Buried somewhere along a dusty route, a serious threat lies in wait. Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, have become ingrained in the American Soldier’s consciousness. But, after more than a decade of conflict, coalition and Afghan forces have grown increasingly adept at defeating these devices.
Combat engineers of the 95th Engineer Company (Clearance), 65th Eng. Battalion, 130th Eng. Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, have become really good at identifying IEDs, and have been working since August to keep northern Helmand roads clear of them.
The 95th Eng. Co. — collectively nicknamed the “Wolfpack” — deployed from Schofield Barracks in August and has been working with several Marine units from across Helmand Province. To date, the company has conducted deliberate route clearance through more than 9,000 kilometers of enemy-held territory. Many of these perilous missions were aimed at re-supplying remote patrol bases and combat outposts across southwestern Afghanistan.
Although route clearance is a slow and deliberate process, it is inherently dangerous work. Route clearance patrols take the lead, sweeping well ahead of a larger logistical or maneuver elements.
“Route clearance is really difficult, especially because we know that there are IEDs out there, just waiting to strike one of our vehicles,” said Staff Sgt. Andre Hankinson, a squad leader in 4th Platoon, 95th Eng. Co. “But it’s good to know that we are actually helping out other Soldiers and Marines in the area by making the roads safe to travel.”
The combat engineers use specially designed equipment to search for buried wires and explosive charges. While the seasoned Soldiers find the vast majority of IEDs, they have also been struck by a number of devices while on patrol across Helmand Province — an area that is still categorized by rampant Taliban attacks.
“Northern Helmand Province has the highest density of IED attacks in all of Afghanistan; conducting route clearance in this region is not for the faint-hearted,” said Capt. Matt Miller, company commander, 95th Eng. Co.
“The Wolfpack Sappers are up to the task, constantly working to sharpen their skills and remain on the winning end of this chess match between insurgents and coalition forces,” Miller added. “The vigilance of these Sappers ensures the safety of those who travel behind them.”
After more than eight months on ground, the Soldiers have been awarded 20 Purple Hearts and almost 80 Combat Action Badges. Despite a grueling workload and an ever-present enemy threat, Wolfpack Soldiers remain optimistic about the mission and are unwaveringly certain about the competence of the Sappers around them.
“My Sappers are some of the best trained in the Afghan Theater,” said 1st Lt. Kyle Chamberlin, platoon leader, 1st Platoon, 95th Eng. Co. “Their skills and knowledge are a direct reflection of the noncommissioned officers in the chain of command. I anticipate that as operations continue, their competence will only keep to improving.”
1st Sgt. Vincent Silva, 95th Eng. Co., echoed Chamberlin’s sentiment, stating that “the NCOs in this company are without a doubt the most professional Soldiers I have ever had the privilege of working with. Their technical and tactical proficiency, from the youngest sergeant to the most-senior platoon sergeant, is far above any that I’ve seen in 20 years.”