War on Terrorism

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Engineer Platoon Provides Route Security

By Sgt. Jon E. Dougherty
Public Affairs NCO
203rd Engineer Battalion

February 24, 2010 - When your primary mission as an engineer platoon is clearing routes of improvised explosive devices – the number one threat to U.S. and NATO forces here – you might not think most other missions are as challenging or rewarding.

But for Second Platoon, 211th Engineer Company (sappers), South Dakota Army National Guard, providing route security comes in more than one form. On a recent cold, windy February day, Second Platoon – known as “The Punishers” to their enemies – took on a different kind of route clearance mission.

While always on the hunt for IEDs, Second Platoon’s focal mission this time was to establish a TCP – traffic control point – along a well-traveled route, with the goal of interdicting insurgents and others who may be transporting explosives, weapons caches or anything aimed at conducting militant operations against the legitimate Afghan government.

The objective, according to Sergeant First Class Jon Albers of Madison, S.D., the Punishers’ platoon sergeant, would be to enhance security along the route, making passage safer for local Afghans. Crews would do so by conducting searches of passing vehicles and tactical questioning of their occupants.

And while that may sound mundane or even routine to some, there is nothing routine about such operations in a war zone.

As was customary before every mission, Albers brought his platoon to attention, then ordered them to “open ranks” so he could inspect them. He moved methodically down each of the three rows, making sure his Soldiers were prepared with the proper gear, ammunition load, and equipment.

Professionals to a man, it was obvious as Albers addressed each man that all were experienced, prepared, and brimming with mutual respect – the kind forged only in battle.

Today, though, it wasn’t a fight the Punishers were seeking – though they were, as always, ready for one if it came.

When Albers finished, 1st Lt. Chris Long of Sturgis, the leader of Second Platoon and who had been observing off to the side of the formation, called his men over to address them.

Today’s mission would, in most respects, be no different than their route clearance packages, in that everyone was expected to remain vigilant, he said. But rather than hunt IEDs, the Punishers would be setting up TCPs – traffic control points – and conducting a presence patrol.

And while it wasn’t an assignment Long and his crews undertook often, it was an “effective” and vital tactic in order to provide local Afghans both security and reassurance.

“We are in a direct support role so setting up a TCP is not something we typically do,” Long said. “I have done around five to this point and usually only for a short duration.”

The mere presence of U.S. forces, however, can have as much of a positive impact as superior firepower in a gunfight.

“TCP’s are effective if done in the right location at the right time,” said Long. “We try to set [them] up close to a known … village or location to raise the probability that we may find a person of interest.”

He says it’s also “common in these locations that the locals have little to no confidence in the Afghan government or us to protect them and enforce law and order,” so the TCPs and presence patrols are “a way to instill some confidence in the locals that the security situation is improving.”

For that reason, Long and his Punishers have a goal, if somewhat lofty: They would like to make it common for ordinary Afghans to be able to live in peace. So they aim to do their part.

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