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A Mine Resistant and Ambush Protected “Buffalo” vehicle from Reaper platoon, Company A, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 1 creeps down a rural road with its flood lights revealing the ground below, allowing combat engineers to observe for any suspicious objects in their path during a route clearance mission. The Reapers have successfully cleared nearly 9,000 miles of roads throughout the area of operations at a crawling pace of 10 miles per hour, and discovered six improvised explosive devices during their seven month deployment.

Photo by Sgt. Nathaniel C. LeBlanc

Reaper engineers sweep thousands of miles, conclude combat tour

30 Apr 2008 | Sgt. Nathaniel C. LeBlanc

The battlefield of today is much different than in wars past with an enemy who prefers to cower in hiding and use his weapon of choice, the improvised explosive device; a diabolical tool of destruction, ominously waiting road-side to mangle unsuspecting Coalition vehicles.

Combating this ever popular threat are the brave men conducting route clearance throughout Iraq such as the Marines of Reaper platoon, Company A, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 1.

The Reapers deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in October of last year for a seven month tour supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom with Regimental Combat Team 6 and 1, and are concluding their combat tour this month.

Equipped with advanced mine sweeping capabilities and Mine Resistant and Ambush Protected vehicles, the combat engineers have successfully cleared nearly 9,000 miles of roads throughout the area of operations at a crawling pace of 10 miles per hour. 

“The Reapers cover every battalion’s battle space within the RCT AO,” said 2nd Lt. Chad Hamlin, platoon commander for the Reapers.  “Our job is to find the IEDs before they find us.”

If there is anything suspicious on the road, Reaper platoon inspects the object, no matter how little it may seem. They have inspected hundreds of suspicious roadside debris, and in the process discovered six IEDs within the seven months they have been here; evidence showing the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq… but a dissipating presence.

Reaper’s route clearance predecessors last year found hundreds of IEDs, discovering them almost daily.  The drastic decline in the amount of IEDs on the road has been a testament to the successful efforts of the Coalition and Iraqi Forces ridding al-Anbar of its terrorist insurgency.

“Activity has quieted down a lot in all areas,” said Sgt. Marvin Boyd, combat engineer and platoon guide for the Reapers, who is finishing his third deployment in Iraq.  “No unit, travelling our roads, has been hit by an IED. It really shows how much things have gotten better. ”

“Being out there all the time is a deterrent for the enemy,” Hamlin said.  “We establish a presence. They see us rolling in MRAP vehicles, and see that we take safety of the roads seriously.”

Working an average of 12 hours, day or night, conducting missions almost daily, covering 40 to 180 miles, and performing their own maintenance on return; the Reaper Marines tackle a daunting task.  But the sense of accomplishment of keeping Coalition forces and the Iraqi population safe has made it all worth it in the end according to the Marines.

“After clearing a route and knowing that other units have travelled our roads without incident is a good feeling,” said Boyd, a Cleveland, Ohio native.

“It’s a job that needs to be done,” said Cpl. Christopher Gamboa, engineer with Reaper platoon and San Antonio, Texas native. “After sweeping a road and having confidence that other units can safely travel those routes makes it all worth it.” 

“We’ve been out here over six months and they’ve worked hard,” Hamlin said.  “I’m proud of them and I couldn’t ask for a better group of Marines.”

The Marines of Reaper platoon are set to return home in Camp Lejeune, N.C. this month.