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A world away from fantasyland.

The focus of the war in Iraq has polarized many in this country and around the world, but when the discussion turns to the troops in the Middle East, there is only a consensus of admiration and support for these courageous men and women.

Armed forces personnel range from those on the front lines, to the medics, to the support staff for each branch of the military, to the engineering corps, and to the thousands of others whose lives are in constant danger.

It is no surprise, therefore, that mechanical engineers and other engineers who are engaged in this war are playing an integral role not only in actual combat situations, but also in support of their colleagues in Iraq and other conflicts in the Middle East.

Poignantly, at this year's ASME Student Design Contest, the finals of which were held last month during the Society's international congress in Anaheim, Calif., college and university students from across the United States came to show off their design prowess in a challenge that touched a real-world problem: locating and removing land mines left behind by warring factions.

The competition was held in a hotel conference room a few blocks from the entrance to Disneyland-home to any child's carefree imagination. The student designs were ingenious. Each of the student teams created intricate remote control robots that picked up and delivered objects to a designated place.

A few days before the Anaheim meeting, ASME News Managing Editor Emily Smith told me about a similar project. This one, however, was set thousands of miles away from the site of the student competition, and a world away from the doorsteps of Disney's Fantasyland.

This project dealt with the fundamental issue of life and death.

No make-believe, just the sobering reality of warfare.

According to Emily, and the article she wrote in this month's issue of ASME News, it was last July, during training exercises before being deployed to Iraq, that ASME member Jonathan Kuniholm realized that a device assembled by another Marine under his command, Howard Akers, could act as a scout for the foot patrols of the 1/23rd Combat Engineers of 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, which operates in the desert in western Iraq. The machine, dubbed Bubba, is a battery-powered vehicle used for reconnaissance when the unit goes out on patrol. Bubba is capable of delivering a plastic explosive charge to destroy a mine.

Designed originally with a two-speed transmission, Bubba's twin electric engines were retooled with a single, slower gear that made the device easier to control.

In an e-mail to Emily from Iraq, Captain Kuniholm wrote, "We build and destroy obstacles to protect friendly positions and to allow the infantry to pass through enemy positions. Part of this responsibility includes sweeping and clearing minefields. Combat engineers are trained in the use of explosives for demolition."

Kuniholm worked with another ASME member, Jason Stevens, who is in the United States, to improve the device and make it more efficient.

I'm hard-pressed to think of an example that better illustrates how the prowess of an engineering design can have a more fundamentally vital role in the safety of men and women than the project Captain Kuniholm has helped develop--and I'm certain that on this, irrespective of our divergent opinions on the war, we can all agree.


John Falcioni can be reached

by e-mail at
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Title Annotation:editorial
Author:Falcioni, John G.
Publication:Mechanical Engineering-CIME
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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