Utah's 115th Engineers Mobile Observation Team: A First on the Battlefield


Written by Sgt.1st Class Gordon Ewell

Published August 2, 2006


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1st Lt. Phillip Smith, right, and Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Ewell, 115th Engineers,  Utah National Guard, prepare for a route-clearance mission.

Photo courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Ewell

1st Lt. Phillip Smith, right, and Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Ewell, 115th Engineers,  Utah National Guard, prepare for a route-clearance mission.

CAMP VICTORY, IRAQ — Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) are the enemy’s weapon of choice in Iraq, and to date they are the number-one killer of Coalition forces on the battlefield. Their ever-increasing sophistication is a challenge but not an insurmountable one.

Generally speaking, IEDs are roadside bombs that not only threaten our Soldiers but disrupt the movement of logistical convoys taking much-needed supplies to them.

Historically, the Engineers have been looked to for the breaching of enemy obstacles that restrict or try to prevent freedom of movement for our forces. In Iraq today, Engineers are still relied upon to provide that freedom of mobility for our forces as they travel daily along Main Supply Routes (MSR) and Alternate Supply Routes (ASR).

Today’s technology has allowed for the creation of specialized vehicles and equipment that are designed specifically for the task of finding IEDs so they can be rendered safe before they can become a threat to U.S. and Coalition forces or Iraqi civilians. These new route-clearance vehicles are being shipped directly to Iraq as quickly as they are being built.

As Army Engineers have historically been tasked with route-clearance operations and assigned specialized equipment for this mission, The Multinational Corps, Iraq (MNC-I) Commanding General looked to the Engineers for the fielding and implementing of this new equipment into battlefield to lead the counter-IED fight.

The Director of the MNC-I Corps of Engineers was assigned the mission. The mission of oversight and fielding of the new equipment was further assigned to the MNC-I Engineer Corps’ Explosives Hazards Coordination Cell (EHCC).

The EHCC is currently comprised of deployed Utah soldiers from the 115th Engineer Battalion, under the direction of Col. John Moore. The EHCC is divided into sections. One of which is the Route Clearance section, under the direction of Maj. Delight Simondi. The Route Clearance section was assigned the responsibility of oversight for all fielding, training, tracking and maintenance issues concerning every single new route-clearance vehicle arriving in theater.

Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Ewell performs a route-clearance mission.

Photo courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Ewell

Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Ewell performs a route-clearance mission.

As the fleet of new route-clearance vehicles grew and route-clearance teams were assembled and trained to specifically engage the IED threat, new tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) were developed.  These TTPs were constantly evolving as Soldiers of route-clearance teams in the field learned the best way to use the new equipment.

It became apparent to the director of the Corps Engineer section and the director of the EHCC that a specially trained team was needed to oversee what all the route-clearance teams were doing and how they were each using the equipment differently to counter the IED-specific threats in their area of operations.

Thus, the Route Clearance Mobile Observation Team (MOT) was created. 1st Lt. Phillip Smith and Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Ewell, both of the 115th were selected as the first-ever MOT observes.  Later, 1st Lt. Ross Renken of the 5th Corps Engineers from Germany and Cpl. James Lish, also of the 115th, were added.

The purpose of the Route Clearance MOT is to deploy to all theater areas of operation and be embedded with each route-clearance team in Iraq in order to observe their tactics, techniques and procedures. Information gathered by the MOT will then be used to rapidly share the best practiced TTPs with all the route-clearance teams in order to increase their effectiveness against enemy threats.

Information gathered by MOTs is also forwarded to training centers in theater and in the U.S. so that future route-clearance teams can be trained based upon the “best” route clearance TTPs observed and most current enemy threats.

To date, the Route Clearance MOT comprised of Utah Soldiers has been embedded in over 70 route-clearance missions. They are highly regarded and have had a significant impact on the effectiveness of route-clearance efforts in the counter-IED fight as well as ensuring freedom of movement for our convoys, Coalition forces and Iraqi civilians.