CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
While driving down the dusty roads of Afghanistan, Marines watch out the windows of their vehicles. The lead driver halts the convoy and calls for a search team to dismount. A possible improvised explosive device has been spotted.
Although this is a training exercise for the Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), IED's are a constant threat to coalition forces convoying through the region.
MWSS-373 Marines go on several convoys each month and must know how to identify, mark and avoid IED's.
Marines from 1st Combat Engineer Battalion teach Marines about several different IED's and how they are used during a Counter IED Class aboard Camp Bastion. The instructors, who are specially trained to handle demolition materials and IED's, teach Marines how to use metal detectors, how to perform dismounted sweeps and what to look for when identifying IED's.
MWSS-373 Marines must complete this training before they can take part in a convoy.
“The Marines only go through the training once, but we send as many Marines to it as possible because if they don’t attend the training, they won’t go on a convoy,” said Sgt. Matthew Bowen, the Motor Transport platoon sergeant for MWSS-373. “These Marines need to be able to identify what exactly to look for while driving down the road.”
Instructors use examples from their personal experiences and after action reports about IED's in Afghanistan, explained Sgt. Calvin Seeley, Counter IED course chief instructor for 1st CEB.
During the class, the Marines receive detailed information about the tactics used by enemy forces. IED's range in size from smaller anti-personnel bombs to much larger ones used on armored vehicles. To aid the Marines in finding IED's, they are taught to use a metal detector that can find low and high metallic materials buried in the ground.
In one portion of the class, the Marines had to perform a dismounted sweep of a man-made canal as part of their practical application.
“They are put into groups and try to find a low metallic pressure plate we’ve buried and identify some indicators of IED's that are common in Afghanistan,” said Seeley, who is originally from Wyandotte, Mich. “[The practical application is] to help them see what it is actually going to look like when they are out there.
“For the most part, a lot of people actually identify the pressure plate in the canal system,” Seeley continued. “They are good at identifying the tell-tale signs that there is an IED in the ground, as well as locating the general area of where it’s located.”
Some of the tell-tale signs include small rock formations or trails of disturbed ground, both of which can indicate an IED is close. Though the training MWSS-373 Marines receive in the Counter IED Class is beneficial and could save their lives, it doesn’t make them experts, and they still need to be extremely cautious when on a convoy.
“This course is a good supplement to convoy training,” said Cpl. Michael Baca, a Motor Transport operator with MWSS-373. “You don’t get this training during school. It teaches the ground side of things that all Marines need to know in case they have to dismount and search for IED's.”
Though the Marines do not often complete dismounted searches, they still need to know what to look for while driving down the roads of Afghanistan. Each time a Marine leaves a secure area, they are searching for potential threats and ensuring the Marines to their right and left are kept safe from IED's.
“We have convoys going out all the time, and it’s important for these Marines to understand what to look for and how to identify the threats which are out there,” said Bowen, who is originally from Bellingham, Wash. “This is what will help save Marines’ lives.”