War on Terrorism

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Face of Defense: Route-Clearance Soldier Leads From Front

By Army Pfc. April Campbell
Special to American Forces Press Service

April 15, 2008 - When Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers conduct missions outside their installation, they pay close attention, watching and searching for signs of improvised explosive devices. Soldiers conducting route-clearance patrols have one primary mission when going outside the wire: to search for and help rid the streets of IEDs. They help ease the burden and provide extra security for those who follow in their paths later that day.

When platoons conduct such missions, a single soldier drives a one-man vehicle known as a Huskey in front of the convoy. These drivers must recognize and react appropriately when they see IEDs -- risking their own lives to protect the soldiers behind them.

Army Spc. Adam Rife serves in Multinational Division Baghdad as a Huskey driver with 3rd Platoon, 84th Engineer Company, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment. Rife, who volunteered to continue driving the vehicle after his initial two-month tour was complete, has found six IEDs over the past five months. While his platoon first provided support out of Camp Taji, the soldiers now operate out of Camp Liberty.

"I volunteered to drive the vehicle when we were in Taji," the San Luis Obispo, Calif., native said. "I just felt more comfortable being up there where I can see everything."

From his vantage point, Rife acts as a vital and mission-essential set of eyes for his platoon
leader, 1st Lt. Eric Schnee, a native of Auburn, Ala.

"There have been numerous occasions where I could not tell anything was there from where I was," Schnee said. "Next thing I know, Rife's on the radio saying, 'I have an IED.' I think he's one of the main reasons that we've been so successful."

Rife trained in a Stryker vehicle before deploying and said he's received all of his training driving a Huskey since he arrived in Iraq. One of his most important teachers has been experience. Learning from each find, Rife said, he's developed a better idea of what to look for when he goes on route-clearance missions.

""One of the first two IEDs I found was ... when I was working at Camp Taji," Rife said. "From that point on, I was looking for the human touch -- the little details where you can tell that something was done there with intent."

With a key mission of protecting others, driving a Huskey is challenging, both technically and mentally.

Army Staff Sgt. Roy Freeman, an Astoria, Ore., native who serves as Rife's squad leader and the acting platoon sergeant with the 3rd Platoon, 84th Engineer Company, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, recognizes the difficulties the Huskey drivers face during their missions.

"With the Huskey, you're out in front of the whole patrol. It's crammed. It's constantly scanning for IEDs," Freeman said. "If you call something out clear, and it turns out to be an IED, then you've got that on your conscience. Mentally, it's probably the hardest job in the patrol."

In spite of the stress it might appear to cause, Rife uses the increased responsibility to motivate himself to excel at his position.

"Knowing that everything's at stake -- the lives of the soldiers behind me and those of the patrols that come after us -- helps me keep my focus," he said.

Although he recently rotated out of his position as a Huskey driver, Rife, who soon will be promoted to sergeant and become a team
leader, plans to use his experience to help him better lead the soldiers for whom he'll be responsible in the future.

"What I've learned by just being a driver," he said, "[the soldiers I will lead] can learn before they become drivers themselves. I think you need to know your soldiers' jobs in order to better lead them."

While not quite yet a noncommissioned officer, Rife continues to be proactive from the Stryker vehicle he now occupies. He passes on his knowledge and assists the new rotation of soldiers who operate the Huskey in their endeavors to secure the streets of Baghdad.

Army Pfc. April Campbell serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad Public Affairs Office.)

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