By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 27, 2010 - Joined by fellow National Guardsmen from Georgia, Kansas, South Dakota and Washington, Missouri's "Houn' Dawgs" are sniffing out improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and rendering them harmless. Sustained by support from back home, members of the Missouri National Guard's 203rd Engineer Battalion are prevailing in this dangerous mission.
"We're all very proud to be here representing our state and our nation," Army Lt. Col. Tony Adrian, the battalion commander, said yesterday during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.
Considered one of the most dangerous and important missions assigned to the U.S. military, route clearance ensures safety for those traveling Afghanistan's roads – a mission felt across the region.
The 203rd's area of responsibility is about the size of West Virginia, Adrian said.
"It's a constant cat-and-mouse game with the enemy," he said. "They change their tactics. We change ours. And the cycle goes on."
In addition to the route-clearance mission, Adrian said, troops are preparing for a surge of more American and NATO forces and are training Afghan forces to take over when coalition forces leave.
The Houn' Dawgs deployed last fall and expect to leave Afghanistan later this year. The deployment is the battalion's second in five years. The 203rd served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
The 203rd's lineage dates back to 1876. In 1916, the unit became known as the "Houn' Dawg Outfit" after it was associated with a song titled "You Gotta Quick Kickin' My Dog Around."
"One of our biggest [strengths] is the soldiers themselves," said the unit's top enlisted soldier, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Stuenkel, also by phone from Afghanistan. Soldiers scan for signs of IEDs and monitor the demeanor of the local populace, often a clue to trouble ahead, he explained.
"It does boil down to instinct and the quality of leaders that we have over here," Adrian said, noting the caliber of the young lieutenants who serve as platoon leaders for the Houn' Dawgs. "They're able to think on their feet," he said. "They're very ingenious. They've got very good instincts."
The 203rd is equipped with mine-resistant, ambush-protected military vehicles, rocket-propelled grenade cages and detection devices that include ground-penetrating radar, infrared and thermal optics and electrical jamming devices, Stuenkel said.
"Technology is one of our strengths here in this fight," Adrian said. "The technology we have ... is shared with our coalition partners."
And the 203rd's citizen-soldiers are well-trained, he said, noting that more people volunteered for the mission than the Houn' Dawgs could use. "We didn't have any trouble filling the ranks and getting our forces up to strength," he said.
Adrian said the ratio of IEDs found and cleared is one measure of effectiveness – a figure that currently stands at about 75 percent.
"We do very well on that," he said. "Right now, during the winter, it is a slow season for IEDs in most areas. That is all going to change come the warmer weather."
The 203rd commands, controls and supports three Guard sapper companies in Afghanistan: its own 1141st Engineer Company out of Kansas City, Mo., the 211st Engineer Company out of South Dakota and the 810th Engineer Company out of Georgia.
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau.)