Theodore's World: Where The Buffalo Roam

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February 28, 2006

Where The Buffalo Roam

The Buffalo is a 25-ton monster of a vehicle. It has a V-shaped bottom design to propel the blast from a bomb outward to the sides which makes it an effective tool in fighting the war against improvised explosive devices. This particular Buffalo belongs to Company C of the 14th Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Band of Brothers. Their unit, from Fort Lewis, Wash., is on loan to 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. (Photo by Pfc. Paul J. Harris, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Feb. 25, 2006)


February 27, 2006
BAQUBAH, Iraq --

What sane people would go out looking for bombs? Members of Company C, 14th Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Band of Brothers do. Nicknamed the Trailblazers, it is their job to hunt down improvised explosive devices on the roads from Forward Operating Base Warhorse to FOB Normandy and FOB Gabe.

The mood at the command post is light and full of laughter during the brief before the start of a mission. It’s not that the men don’t take the job seriously, they do with the utmost precision.

Laughter and jokes are key to keeping morale up. Without a light atmosphere, tension would fill the room and we would not be able to focus on our jobs, said Sgt. John Reese, vehicle commander RG-31, Co. C, 14th Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Band of Brothers.

Reese heavily believes in the Buddhist philosophy of Karma. He believes it is part of the reason that has kept him alive during this deployment. He is usually the instigator of cracking jokes to alleviate the tension during the mission. On his downtime, Reese watches a lot of movies, sometimes never coming out of his room. One of his favorite movies is EuroTrip. He playfully ended each response to questions for this interview with "you still can’t touch my camera!," a popular quote from the movie.

The Trailblazers are attached to 101st Airborne Division from their home station in Fort Lewis, Wash., and are on loan to 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

Their main weapon in the IED fight is the Buffalo, a vehicle manufactured in South Africa is nicknamed the "Cadillac" of the road for its spacious interior and reclining seats.

The Buffalo uses its arm to interrogate suspected IEDs along the route.

"We don’t try and detonate the IED, the arm is used to confirm the IED -- think of it like a big extended arm similar to the one used on the space shuttle," said Sgt. James Brown, team leader, Co. C, 14th Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division.

Brown then looks suspicious things in the area. Most IEDs are remote detonated and on occasion explode while being confirmed.

"I have been hit in the Buffalo. As a company we have found more than 50 IEDs in a three-and-a-half month span," Brown said.

The other Trailblazer vehicle that is used is the RG-31. It is also made in South Africa. It is more of a combat oriented vehicle like a Humvee, with mounts for weapons and portholes for Soldiers to shoot out. It houses a remote controlled robot that can roll up to a suspected IED and detonate the bomb if needed, just like in the movies.

2nd Lt. Alexander Dorko, Second Platoon leader, Co. C, 14th Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, recently joined the Trailblazers and marveled at the insurgents resourcefulness of coming up with new ways of hiding bombs.

"Most insurgent activity tends to be at night. It is easier for the insurgents to plant IEDs under the cover of darkness," Dorko said.

It is no secret the insurgents have been using dead animals to hide IEDs, but now they are starting to use IEDs with pressure wires, Dorko said. When you hold the device in your hand to examine, it looks like someone spent a lot of time and effort in constructing this bomb, they are definitely getting more advanced.

When the Trailblazers first arrived in Iraq they were shown signs in Arabic that read "kill the claw." Insurgents would like nothing more than to take down Trailblazer, it would be a big prize for them.

Driving around with a bull’s-eye on your vehicle gives you a more heightened sense of awareness. You think to yourself, I better find this IED before it finds me, Brown said.

Though the job is dangerous and comes with a high amount of stress, Brown is upbeat about the mission he and his team are performing.

"We are blazing these trails or roads looking for bombs and insuring mobility for other units," he said. "It is not reality to keep everything off the road, but we are doing the best we can."

By Pfc. Paul J. Harris - 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team - 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office


Posted by Wild Thing at February 28, 2006 12:01 AM

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That's an impressive vehicle, it reminds me of an armored road grader. I started my brief military career as a combat engineer, we've come a long way in technological advances, one of the duties of the CE is mine locating and removal, most unpleasant duty, traditionaly done by manually sweeping and removing or detonating mines or IED's in place, I've met my former trademen several times on the road doing mine sweeps where we've mutually asked the same question "what the hell are you doing out here?". The engineers thinking we we're crazy for driving roads that hadn't been swept and we, amused that they hadn't been swept either. We certainly "swept" a few for them too, but I can't give them enough credit for the risks of the job, they are usually out there before anyone else without any escort protection and can easily walk into an ambush or CDM.

Posted by: Jack at February 28, 2006 01:13 PM

Hi Jack thank you for sharing about this, it is really interesting to me. I agree too, the risks are tremendous.

Thank you again so much.

Posted by: Wild Thing at February 28, 2006 01:52 PM

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