Army engineers plot fight against Iraq bombs from Ozarks base (IRAQ)
The U.S. Army Engineer School is part of an expanding effort by the military to staunch losses to what the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
Half a world away from Iraq's dusty streets, the fight against homemade bombs that have become a major insurgent threat to U.S. troops is being waged in the leafy Ozark hills by a growing team of military engineers all too familiar with the affects of roadside blasts.
The U.S. Army Engineer School based at Fort Leonard Wood is part of an expanding effort by the military, including a Pentagon joint services task force, to staunch losses to what the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
Posters lining the walls of the Engineer School's Counter Explosives Hazard Center (CEHC) warn that IEDs can be anything from a bag full of high-grade commercial explosives to a flattened charge hidden behind a placard on a wall at head height and linked to a remote detonator.
Research, development and training in everything from bomb detection to hunting down the bombmakers is the focus of work at the CEHC, which has grown from 16 full-time military and civilian staff about 18 months ago to 44 now, with an additional 20 people working on contract. Although it's an Army operation, it also works with the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
"It's very personal to us," said Lt. Col. Kent D. Savre, director of the CEHC.
"I'd say everybody here knows someone who has been injured or killed by an IED," he said.
Savre said his center was part of an intensified effort across all service branches to combat roadside bombs, some massive and some hidden in soda cans, that have accounted for a large part of U.S. battle deaths, despite a vigorous campaign to improve armament on American vehicles and to hunt down insurgent weapons caches.
Last week, for example, 40 percent of the attacks against U.S. and coalition forces were carried out with IEDs, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters in Baghdad Thursday. But they accounted for 64 percent of the U.S. and coalition casualties, he said.
"All of our effort everyday is going to IED defeat," Savre said.
At the CEHC, work includes hardware issues such as improving armor. But the approach is broader, from designing training programs so soldiers know how to search for bombs to developing the doctrine, or military play book, for how anti-bomb work in the field should be conducted.
The Buffalo, a heavily armored vehicle with an extendable arm that can dig around in a suspicious roadside pile, is an example. Purchased from a contractor, the vehicle has to be worked into the military's routine to be effective.
"The Buffalo is a materiel solution. But there is also doctrine: how do we integrate the Buffalo into how we fight? How do you set up a unit operationally to take the Buffalo out and look for IEDs? How do we train soldiers to use this equipment?" Savre said.
The strategy is also broader, including looking at what Savre calls "the insurgent's whole process, like a business model."
"Before an IED explodes on a soldier, there is a process. Someone has to get the materiel for the bomb. A bomb maker has to make it. It has to be transported to where it is placed. Someone has to set it off," Savre said.
Savre did not discuss what projects his center was working on to stop the bombs before they are placed, except to say there was an intelligence component and work on training soldiers to find that intelligence.
But he did say that part of what CEHC does is analyze information from the field to constantly update training and send back useful information to forces on the ground.
"We are constantly keeping up with the way the enemy is fighting, how we're fighting and where we're successful," Savre said.
One result is the IED Defense Awareness Training course the center has started offering at the 60,000 acre base set in the Mark Twain National Forest.
In the past three months, trainers from five battalions headed for Iraq have been schooled in the latest IED defense doctrine and equipment and sent back to their units to pass on the knowledge.
Fort Leonard Wood, founded in 1941 as an Army training ground for World War Two recruits, today is the headquarters for the Army Engineer School as well as its chemical weapons defense school and its military police school.
Von: 5 November 2005 (AP) By MARCUS KABEL (c) 2005. The Associated Press.