by Jim Hart
JBER Public Affairs
12/6/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- An
American infantry platoon was patrolling near a compound in southern
Afghanistan, not far from Kandahar, long identified as a trouble spot.
The Afghan National Army had taken many casualties in the vicinity, and
U.S. Soldiers heard the enemy was defending a weapons cache. Whatever
the reason behind the trouble, the infantry troops were out there for a
The persistent threat detection system (a tethered blimp with sensors)
saw something of interest - a man planting an improvised explosive
device. They needed to capture the suspect and remove the threat
He was bait.
Normally, this platoon would have brought along engineer support to
clear any IEDs, but they had been sent out as a quick-reaction force and
didn't have time.
Very soon, the dismounted patrol began hitting numerous IEDs. One by
one, they exploded... killing or wounding Soldier after Soldier.
Before too long, four were dead, including their medic. Many more were
wounded. Even the medevac helicopter set off at least one IED with rotor
wash, but was still able to fly.
No place was safe. The enemies had booby-trapped shady spots and areas
of cover - almost anywhere a Soldier would go. Some of the IEDs had
pressure plates four feet in front of the device to kill or maim anyone
walking up to investigate.
"It was a textbook-setup IED ambush," said Army Staff Sgt. Kandom Moore,
3rd Platoon squad leader with the 84th Engineer Support Company.
"Anywhere you could go to hide, there was an IED."
The IEDs were so prolific and the area so dangerous, the men on the
patrol weren't able to immediately secure all the remains of their
buddies, or the equipment scattered by the explosions.
The patrol pulled security on site until their relief could come.
Relief comes in the night
The 84th Engineer Support Company got the call for help that
night and made it out to the site a few hours later. They first came
with an M-160 Light Flail -- an 11,000-pound, tank-like robot that beats
the ground with chain "hammers" attached to a spinning drum.
They didn't make enough headway with the flail, so they came back the
next morning. According to Moore, this time would be far more
"We probably didn't go 150 meters in a twelve-hour period because we kept finding IED after IED after IED," Moore said.
They also fired an Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System (a
rocket-launched explosive line charge that replaced the famed Bangalore
Torpedo). The APOBS destroyed an explosive belt that could have been
used by a suicide bomber, or set up as an anti-personnel mine.
According to Moore and others, this mission was the most memorable, most
stressful, and most honorable (by making it possible to recover the
remains through disabling the other IEDs).
Overall, the platoon's high success rate with finding and neutralizing IEDs made them frequent companions with infantry patrols.
"Once we were (in theater), as long as the engineers were in front of
them, there were no other IED strikes on infantry personnel," Moore
Despite this track record of success, IED clearance isn't normally the 84th ESC's forte.
Safety comes from training
The 84th ESC is a horizontal construction company; the unit normally
builds roads and infrastructure when deployed. The Soldiers typically
assigned to route clearance are combat engineers. According to the 84th
ESC company commander, Army Capt. Mike Carvelli, this made for a
significant change in how the unit trained and prepared.
"I took command last December, so there was a commander before me who
took them through the training," Carvelli said. "He did a great job by
seeing the skillset they had and translating that into the training they
Additionally, they had another 35 days of training in theater to learn
about specific equipment they would use. Each day during the deployment,
the individual platoons trained for hours, with the noncommissioned
officers setting up training lanes to test their platoon members'
If mission success is an indicator, the training paid off handsomely.
During its nine-month deployment, the 84th ESC did not suffer a single
casualty. The assigned members also have the honor of knowing not a
single Afghan or International Security Assistance Force vehicle - or
even one their own vehicles - was lost to an IED on routes the 84th ESC
"The junior Soldiers thought it was a little boring because of that, but
a lot of the older Soldiers, the ones who've deployed before, have a
lot of appreciation for the progress that's been made," Carvelli said.
In all, the 84th ESC was responsible for about 70 kilometers (42 miles)
of roads. On those 70 kilometers, Carvelli estimates they cleared 12,000
kilometers (7,200 miles) during the course of the deployment. They
found 38 ready IEDs, and numerous pieces and parts such as batteries,
charges, detonators and other components commonly used to make explosive
This was the first, and likely last, deployment to Operation Enduring
Freedom for the 84th ESC. The unit will inactivate in September, 2014,
as part of the Army's drawdown. It has been inactivated five times in
the past. The last time the 84th ESC inactivated was in April 2005.
For the Soldiers, it's an honorable finish.
"We've got five campaign streamers on the guidon, and it was pretty
significant to put on a new one, knowing it will probably be the last
one for the duration of the Afghanistan deployment," Carvelli said. "It
was humbling and exciting to be a part of the history of a company
that's been around since the end of World War II - it's been a great
experience, and people keep talking about it."
The mission and Soldiers will be absorbed by other engineer units in
Alaska and elsewhere. It's unknown when, where or if the 84th ESC will
stand up again.