FORT IRWIN, Calif., Sept. 27--Staff Sgt. Jacob Pries is a fast-talking, hard-talking man who--after talking about how much he loves his wife--loves nothing more than talking guns, talking cops, and talking about being a U.S. Army combat engineer. Most days, he's a man on a mission moving at a high rate of speed, tossing cuss words like stun grenades.
He is a veteran of Task Force 168th's 2004-2005 deployment to Afghanistan. That unit was organized around the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1/168th Inf.), but the 700 troops who went on that deployment were broken up into platoons and companies across Afghanistan. They provided security for Provincial Reconstruction Teams (P.R.T.).
This time, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division is traveling in even larger numbers, and sticking together in larger herds. This time, Pries is working as part of the unit's Counter-I.E.D. Support Element (C.S.E.). Improvised Explosive Devices (IED)--roadside bombs, makeshift mines, and booby-traps--are the bad guys' most-dangerous weapon. Sometimes, they're detonated by remote-control. Other times, they're designed to go off when a vehicle or solider applies pressure to them.
Experts talk about the counter-IED fight in three components: "Attack the network. Defeat the device. Train the force." In other words: Disrupt the bomb-makers' organization. Figure out what makes their devices tick and how to stop them from going off. And, as soon as you have something concrete, tell soldiers what they need to know about the latest bad guy tools and tactics.
Part of the CSE is a Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell (CEXC)--a group of military and civilian experts who work to analyze IED attacks. Pries jokes that it's a little like working with "CSI: Fort Irwin."
The acronym, by the way, is pronounced "sexy."
Before mobilization, Pries had his days of hating headquarters life. Too much paperwork, not enough action. Now that he's in The Box and working with people like his CEXC new counterparts, however, he's back to his old self. He squeezes off insights in easy bursts of simple, practical examples.
"It's like attacking a gang," Pries says of his job. "I know how to attack a gang. That's what I do, as a cop back home." The CEXC looks for clues as to the who, what, where, when and how of bomb-making. They investigate what the bad guys are doing and using, identify who may be working with whom. Then they get the word out to troops regarding any trends they're seeing. Remember that old cop show, Adam-12? "Be on the look out for ..."
The CEXC includes civilian law enforcement professionals ("LEP," rhymes with "pep")--U.S. police who wear a modified Army uniform. "They're experts in tactical questioning," says Pries. "They go out to IED sites, look at the crowds, work with [interpreters]. I'm a cop, and that's what we do at a crime scene. We respond to the scene, and while we're working the details, we're also keeping an eye out for things that are out of place."
For example: "Everybody's wearing red, orange, and green, and that guy in the crowd is wearing black? C'mere, you! Everybody has a beard, and that guy doesn't? C'mere!"
"What I like about all this? Everything we do--every product we produce, every assumption we make, every suggestion we make, has a guy at the end of a rifle," says Pries. "Not just U.S. guys--Afghans, too."
"Say that [radio-controlled IED] are being used more against host-nation troops, because host-nation doesn't have [electronic warfare] systems. OK, put us up front," he says. "And, if they start going pressure-plate, we've got the armor. Let us take the blast."
"Operations on the objective? Kicking doors and searching houses? That needs to be Afghans--it's their country."
The Red Bull is here to help.
Red Bull, 10-23.