By Tanner Cole
Jennifer Bush assembled her squad. Their mission was to safely navigate their way deep into the fictional county Atropia to the village San Pedro and communicate with the village elder. Along their path they would encounter potentially hostile locals, but the real killer lay hidden right under their feet.
Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, remain one of the most deadly obstacles Soldiers find waiting for them while deployed. They can be constructed using everyday objects and hidden nearly anywhere. Fortunately, the Cadets begin their training on spotting and dealing with IEDs during their Leader Development and Assessment Course.
Bush, from Fort Valley State University, in Fort Valley, Georgia, led her troops into the village after explaining her plan.
“We’re going to move in a staggered pattern down this path,” Bush said. “If we’re going to make contact with any villagers that are not being aggressive, our Bravo team’s going to break off and pull security while my Alpha team and I address them and try to build rapport with them. If we make contact violently from the personnel, then we will immediately return fire and shoot on sight.”
After forming a wedge, they progressed down the path and moved quickly as Bush instructed. They took one step too many and instantly heard the blare of an air-horn.
They had stepped on an IED.
The operation was a failure, but now the Cadets understood exactly what they needed to learn.
Moving on to their next training lane, Cadets found a table covered in mangled electronics, stripped wires and ordinary plastics. Beside the table stood Sgt. Warren Waddell of Merced, Washington. With multiple deployments under his belt, Waddell knew well the danger IEDs presented in the field and the amount of sheer firepower that lay on the table.
“Nearly stepped on a land mine myself the first time around getting out of a vehicle,” Waddell said. “You have to make sure you’re looking. Had I not have looked down before I stepped out, I might not have a leg right now.”
Waddell shared personal experiences with the Cadets about the dangers they and their platoons might face if they were to enter a combat field. Alongside him was IED expert Darrell Eplee.
“Your number one tools are your eyes and your knowledge,” Eplee said. “I always tell my guys that if you roll around the country looking for a piece of wire sticking out of the ground you’re going to go nuts. But if you understand that most IEDs are associated with a danger area and you see a danger area coming up then you start honing in on ant trails.”
Trainers like Eplee train all deploying units in small teams before they leave the U.S.. Though they’re not deploying, the Cadets are getting a first look at the technologies and techniques at their disposal for eliminating the threat of IEDs.
At the station, Cadets learned about several different types of IEDs and where they might spot them. They were given a basic explanation of the metal detectors and other systems for locating them.
“These Cadets are eventually going to be in leadership positions,” Waddell said. “They’re going to be in charge of Soldiers. We’re going to give them some idea of things that their people are going to be watching for. If they have that perspective they’re going to be able to enable their Soldiers better. They can understand the risk and understand the threats so they can take appropriate action to defeat them.”