A Buffalo mine-protected vehicle follows along in a route clearance convoy training-mission at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, June 18, 2013.
A Buffalo mine-protected vehicle follows along in a route clearance convoy training-mission at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, June 18, 2013. The company cleared a route to ensure the safe passage of a key leader engagement during their practice missions, which were completed during their three-week annual training. The 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard, based out of San Angelo, Texas, is preparing to deploy early next year. (National Guard photo by Laura L. Lopez/Released)
 Story by: Laura Lopez
 

 CAMP BOWIE, Texas – As National Guard citizen-soldiers and airmen gear up for their required annual training, the men and women assigned to the 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG),  spent time at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, preparing for a route clearance mission in Afghanistan, where they’re  slated to deploy early next year. 

 The three-week annual training included learning about the different mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, obtaining the appropriate and necessary licenses, undergoing multiple safety briefings and spending time in a newly  built Virtual Clearance Training Suite (VCTS). The training also included four-to-five hour, full route clearance practice  missions, June 17-18, 2013, with different targeted areas of interest set as close to theatre conditions as able to be replicated forcing Soldiers to move beyond computerized simulators and learn more than just the different convoy configurations.

 “These training missions really drive home what these Soldiers are going out there to do,” said Capt. Kenneth Sweet, Commander, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. “These Soldiers are  going out there to find explosive hazards so that vehicles that are not designed for that don’t find them.”

 Just one of a handful of route clearance mission teams within the National Guard and the only one within the TXARNG,  training and readiness remain at the forefront of the minds of commanders who will lead them, potentially into harm’s  way. A first deployment for about 50 percent of the Soldiers, the company’s executive officer believes that having the  resources and equipment readily available for them to train with is essential.

 “Just getting their hands on a Buffalo (mine-protected vehicle) and driving a Husky (tactical support vehicle) and stuff of  that nature is an experience many of these guys have never done before,” said 1st Lt. Corey Ebert, 454th Engineer  Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. 

 A multifaceted mission that provides the rest of the forces the ability to move freely around the battlefield, one soldier from San Angelo, Texas, working with the counter improvised explosive device integration cell planting the land mine simulators and roadside bombs for each practice-training mission received an eye-opening experience.

“Working with them places the shoe on the other foot and allows one to see what the enemy does and why,” said Spc. Joshua Morris, construction equipment mechanic, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. “It’s kind of interesting knowing they (my fellow soldiers) are going to get hit, but at the same time you want it to happen so they can learn that muscle memory of going through the motions here, rather than over there.”

Focused on working as a team to successfully accomplish the task at hand, members of the engineer company were given a variety of different scenarios in which a roadside bomb or explosive device found them, as a means to force them to determine and discuss the best way to react to the situation. Additionally, commanders ended each scenario with a follow-up mission like a key leader engagement or the establishment traffic control points to further enhance their skill arsenal.

A resident of Dallas, Texas, who hopes to learn responsibility, strength in numbers and leadership, in addition to teamwork isn’t worried about being one of the only females assigned the deployment. 

“I was raised to be pretty strong and independent, so nothing really intimidates me,” said Pfc. Shannon Gatta, small arms repair, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. “They are my comrades and someone who will be able to cover me in the battlefield and vice versa.”

Whether leading a convoy with a Husky tactical support vehicle designed to detect buried explosive hazards or assisting in the interrogation or neutralizing of a roadside bomb or explosive device one Big Lake, Texas, resident says the dream of deploying as a combat engineer on a route clearance mission will soon come true. However, the legacy he continues makes him honored to serve his country. 

“My grandfather was in the 36th Infantry Division in World War II and was in the Italy and northern African campaigns, so to be a part of the Texas Army National Guard like he was is a highlight of my career,” said Spc. Timothy Stout, combat engineer, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard.

As citizen-soldiers from a diverse range of professions, this San Angelo, Texas, based engineer company is honored to be one of last major combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) for the TXARNG in the foreseeable future and hope that the residents will come together, support the soldiers and their families, while understanding more about the missions and roles of the National Guard.

“This deployment (and all others) prove to everyone that the National Guard is not just something that can be used here at home or just used in the state of Texas; they are multifaceted, wear more than one hat and are a recognizable force to provide our active duty counterparts,” said Ebert.

The 454th Engineer Company will continue to train at various locations in Texas to include Fort Bliss in El Paso, before their scheduled deployment to Afghanistan in early 2014.