By Army Sgt. Rob Frazier
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 17, 2009 - With at least 10 improvised explosive devices found and detonated in recent weeks on a key route leaders prepared to travel along on June 13, soldiers in Afghanistan's Wardak province set up a traffic checkpoint. The counter-IED team of 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, led soldiers from Battery B of 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery in operating the checkpoint.
"We received intel that suggested a vehicle-borne IED might be in the area," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Lebron, the counter-IED team's noncommissioned officer in charge. "Conducting this [traffic checkpoint] allows us to clear the route and mitigate the possibility of enemy activity traveling the roads."
Vehicles moved to strategic areas to provide fire support as dismounted soldiers separated bundles of concertina wire and placed them on the dirt path to mark the checkpoint entrance and exit.
"Over the past couple of days it's been quiet," Lebron said. "The insurgents may be restocking and preparing for something big. We know they're out there. We just have to find them."
As vehicles approached, the checkpoint team motioned for the drivers to steer onto the shoulder. When the automobile came to a halt, Army Sgt. Jason McDonald, a 4-25th gunner, gave instructions to an interpreter to pass on to the driver.
"Tell him to shut off the vehicle and to pop the hood, then tell them they all need to get out and move over there," McDonald directed.
The Afghans followed instructions and moved away from their car. Army Spc. Michael Ung, a personal security gunner, was waiting to search them.
"You never know what they might be carrying on them," said Army Sgt. Talalelei Upuese of the counter-IED team. "This allows us to pat them down to see if we can detect any illegal substances they may be trying to conceal in their clothes."
As the Afghans were being searched and questioned, soldiers performed detailed inspections of the vehicles that included opening compartments, checking under the seats and looking through various sacks and boxes.
"They can hide all sorts of things in various places," Upuese said. "We have to be thorough, because if we miss something, it could lead to bad results for other people down the road."
From another location, Army Sgt. Bill Hunter motioned to the interpreter to escort one of the men over to his area, where he was waiting with hand-held interagency identity detection equipment that allows servicemembers to input Afghans' personal information into a universal data system.
"There are more than 10,000 fingerprints on file in this system," Hunter said. "We check their fingerprints and do retinal scans to see if we can match them with the information stored in here. If we determine they are a 'high risk' person, we can detain them."
As the counter-IED team worked its way through the line of small cars, buses and trucks, Lebron expressed his pleasure with his troops' performance.
"This is going really well, considering it's our first [traffic checkpoint]," Lebron said. "I think we are doing a great job. The soldiers are motivated, and they're using their experience and training to make this run smoothly."
The counter-IED team is a fairly new concept for his brigade, Lebron said. "We learned in December that 3rd Brigade was going to support an IED team. We worked stateside with the [Bureau of] Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unit, learning [in] blast classes and then continued our training at Bagram Airfield with Task Force Paladin's explosive ordnance disposal team prior to starting operations here."
Army 1st Lt. Silverio Gabriel, the counter-IED team leader, said his troops and the 4-25th artillerymen, who are transitioning from a firing battery to a maneuver element, are a great example of how the military is evolving and changing the way soldiers approach the fight.
"It's the model for the Army today," he said. "Soldiers now have to be flexible and versatile. They have to have a broad knowledge or they get behind the curve."
After several hours of operating the checkpoint, the soldiers assembled to begin their convoy back to Forward Operating Base Airborne. While their hard work did not turn up any results for the potential vehicle bomb or illegal paraphernalia, Lebron still called the day a success.
"A find is always a plus, because it's one less thing to injure someone," he said. "But it's always a good day when you know nobody gets hurt."
(Army Sgt. Rob Frazier serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)