Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Jelle
3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division
DHI QAR PROVINCE, Iraq – Denying the enemy of opportunities to place explosives is the focus and mission for the Soldiers of Company E, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
The roads and routes of Iraq are patrolled every night by Soldiers and their high-tech equipment to help ensure the safety of U.S. and Iraqi security forces.
Platoon B, Company E, performs route clearance missions multiple times a week with six vehicles outfitted with cameras, probing arms, remotely operated weapons and high-powered spotlights. Five of the vehicles are variants of the proven Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, while the smaller but still heavily armored Husky resembles an MRAP fused with a tractor.
“(Route clearance) has changed dramatically since my last two deployments,” said Sgt. 1st Class Byron Flakes, platoon sergeant, “Beast” Platoon, Company E, attached to 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment. “Now we actually have the means to interrogate with the Buffalo, the Husky and the TALON robot.”
The Husky is a one-person vehicle that travels out front and acts as the first method of detection for potential ambush points. Using a camera with thermal imaging, it can detect heat signatures and traces of body heat on objects on the side of the road. This information helps the Soldiers find objects recently placed on the side or the median of the road and distinguish possible threats.
The arm attached to the Husky can be used to investigate small and suspicious objects but heavier debris calls for a little more muscle.
The Buffalo’s remote manipulator arm is used to sweep, push, and lift debris out of the way to either investigate a threat or move it to a safer location to prevent its use as cover for a possible improvised explosive device. The arm also has a spur, resembling a bird’s talon, which can root around to look for wires or attached devices buried in the dirt and sand.
Pfc. Nicholas Bolchalk, the main operator for the manipulator arm, says he enjoys operating the arm because it is like using a giant robotic Lego set.
“It is actually kind of neat. And then to know that you are actually helping Soldiers and preventing IEDs from going off – well, there is a lot of pride in this job,” he said.
It is not always practical or possible for one of the integration vehicles to inspect a potential threat. That is where smaller remote devices like the TALON robot come in.
With its small and lightweight design, less than 100 pounds, the tracked robot can move off-road and around immovable obstacles. Using four cameras, the Soldier operating the device can get a close-up view of the target. The TALON also has a movable arm that can sweep, pick-up or drag an object to a safer location without exposing the Soldiers to further risk.
“It is kind of like playing a video game,” said Sgt. Robert Antoff, the main TALON operator. “You get to use a joystick, and you sit there and watch the screen. It is a lot of fun to use.”
Sgt. Kevin Sosa, combat engineer, said that he enjoys actually finding and clearing the hazards, because it is one less IED to worry about.
“It is always a good day when you don’t find anything, but it is a better day when you do,” said Sosa.