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The 70th Brigade Engineer Battalion (BEB), 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, deployed to National Training Center (NTC) Rotation 17-03 in January 2017. Through the duration of the training exercise, the 70th BEB was entrusted with the portion of unified land operations formerly known as wide area security while providing enablers to conduct combined arms maneuvers. These responsibilities are included in the unified land operations principle to "establish and maintain security in order to protect populations, friendly forces, installations, extended infrastructure, and activities crucial to mission accomplishment." (1) The efforts of the 70th BEB were successful, resulting in the best wide area security mission in years. The unit improvised explosive device (IED) find rate of 19 percent during the rotation equated to about a 17 percent increase in the find rate compared to the historical average 1-2 percent find rate reported by other rotational training units. Route clearance elements that fully prepare for NTC challenges execute route sanitation, maintain a presence in areas of interest, and ensure deliberate urban clearance can be expected to achieve similar wide area security success.

The 70th BEB route clearance asset (RCA) offered unique capabilities and capitalized on opportunities that profoundly supported the wide area security effort. The overall effectiveness of the platoon, the percentage of IEDs found, and the contribution to wide area security are attributed to the balance of simultaneously defeating the device and attacking the network. Results of the route clearance after action reviews outlining successful practices and areas in need of improvement allowed for the creation of a recommended model for route clearance units in the wide area security fight.

Preparation for NTC

In anticipation of the mission at NTC, RCA leadership shaped training to instill a holistic understanding of the battalion and brigade fight and the role that route clearance fulfills. In September 2016, the battalion conducted external platoon evaluations and certified the platoons on the execution of their mission-essential tasks. Leaders identified areas of weakness and retrained Soldiers prior to the NTC rotation. The battalion command team added emphasis to information collection of threat networks, familiarization of terrain as it pertains to routes and avenues of approach, and the denial of unobserved enemy maneuvers. With this additional guidance, the RCA began preparatory training and further solidified its platoon internal tactics, techniques, and procedures.

The platoon leadership created standard operating procedures on snap traffic control points (TCPs), focusing on apprehending individuals involved with the insurgent threat network. Soldiers later expanded TCP proficiency through training conducted by military police. Noncommissioned officers were assigned to become subject matter experts on the Secure Electronic Enrollment Kit and oversaw the instruction and processing of the civilian population. Virtual Battle Space 3 technicians placed the platoon on crucial supply routes on NTC terrain. The benefits were two-fold: Soldiers were able to conduct route clearance missions in a simulated desert environment, rather than being restricted by home station forested training areas (and consequently, leaders were able to evaluate and shape terrain-specific techniques and procedures) and Soldiers familiarized themselves with NTC maps and reinforced their understanding with a digital representation of key NTC terrain.

Denial of IED Emplacement Through Route Sanitation

Much of the platoon's success during the NTC rotation was attributed to practices implemented on its first mission, although, no confirmed IED was found. The platoon conducted a combined route clearance, IED threat route reconnaissance, and removal of possible IED debris on the route. Soldiers recorded grid locations and other indicators of possible enemy activity affecting friendly forces within the area. The patrol effectively communicated IED indicators, establishing a strong basis for future change detection internal to the platoon. Finally, due to the ease of finding possible components, many potential IED parts were removed. This had been an uncommon practice in previous rotations. By the end of the mission, the RCA had picked up hundreds of meters of wire, two antennas, and three power sources and had removed more than 10 possible targeting markers. Although many of the IED components found may have been genuine trash left over from other rotations, the platoon denied partial placement and removed easily accessible resources from the enemy. Ultimately, the enemy method of IED construction was hindered and its likelihood of being detected was increased. Additionally, the sanitized route presented a clean slate, facilitating easy change detection for the brigade and RCA.

Route Presence Through Overwatch and TCPs

The enemy endures increasing levels of risk, the longer it remains engaged in the creation and initiation of IEDs. The platoon benefited from the number of hours spent out on the route, TCPs, overwatch of named areas of interest, and 24-hour observation of towns with known IED facilities. Overwatch and military presence along the routes are also attributed to other units within the brigade. In one instance, a friendly convoy drove up on a three-man team emplacing an IED. When the emplacement team fled, quick communication within the area of operations allowed RCA TCP personnel to engage the team. Ultimately, the desperate insurgents were forced to hastily emplace IEDs, which resulted in the IEDs being easily identifiable by route clearance and other brigade units. This contributed to the high find rate of the rotation and significantly increased the protection level of the force. Toward the end of the rotation, insurgents resorted to using surface-laid IEDs or dropping traffic cones with a remote-controlled IED inside from a speeding vehicle--only to be easily removed by route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal teams.

Overwatch of an area enabled simultaneous information collection of the threat network and population. While surrounding and observing one of the main towns overnight, the RCA reported four vehicles with six individuals tied directly to IED activities to the battalion. The platoon also identified key information concerning the daily actions of the civilians. Appropriate information updates were immediately sent to the battalion and later debriefed to the intelligence staff officer (S-2). Pictures of IED components, individuals, and vehicles were invaluable during debriefing. Knowledge of the road systems and familiarization with the terrain allowed platoon leaders to select effective locations for TCPs, maximizing the amount of traffic intercepted. Additionally, the patrol acted as a mobile TCP, checking vehicles approaching from the front and rear. The platoon stopped and recorded 15 civilians, inspected their vehicles, asked questions, and enrolled them in the S-2 database, identifying three of them as being involved in the IED network.

Deliberate IED Removal Through Urban Dismounted Clearance

The final RCA practice to successfully attack the network was conducted through combined dismounted and mounted clearance operations through urban areas. Dismounted personnel identified and removed four IEDs and two caches of enemy IED materials. Soldiers were able to interact with the civilian population and gain valuable intelligence concerning the town. The dismounted personnel found an enemy terrain model of the surrounding area, later discovered in the after action review to have dissuaded an enemy attack. Route clearance provides security for civilians and ensures mobility for friendly units. When communicated correctly, the population quickly understands the patrol's purpose in and around its town. Even those not expressly friendly to U.S. forces have a vested interest in daily routes being cleared of explosive hazards and may pass along crucial information on devices and networks to protect their families.


Utilization of the route clearance patrol in the wide area security fight is achieved by spending hours interacting with the population, providing presence in areas of interest, and protecting the force by deliberate clearance of the routes. Ultimately, the ability of the route clearance patrol to concurrently attack the threat network while clearing explosive hazards sets the patrol apart as a necessary component of the wide area security fight. Well-prepared units, route sanitation, the presence of named areas of interest, and deliberate urban clearance will significantly influence success in protecting the force in NTC and wartime operations.


(1) Army Doctrine Publication 3-0, Operations, 10 June 2017.

First Lieutenant Austin serves as the horizontal-construction platoon leader with the 70th BEB, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He was previously assigned to the battalion as a route clearance platoon leader. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Engineer Basic Officer Leader Course and the U.S. Army Route Reconnaissance and Clearance Leader Course. First Lieutenant Austin holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the U.S. Military Academy-West Point, New York.

Caption: 70th BEB Soldiers implement the TALON[R] robot to investigate a possible IED found inside an abandoned vehicle.

Caption: An RCA Buffalo A2 arm operator successfully unearths a possible roadside IED.
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Author:Austin, Joshua H.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Date:May 1, 2018
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