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Minnesota National Guard
Horizontal Engineers Make Safe Passage in Bagram

Minnesota National Guard Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan- Like much of Afghanistan, the area around Bagram Airfield is riddled with mines Many were planted by the Russians during their occupation in the 1980s, while others date to the civil war after the Russian withdrawal The US military has painstakingly removed mines from much of the base, however, there are still large areas of land within the perimeter of Bagram that have been untouched and remain contaminated with land mines All of these areas are well marked with "Danger" signs and there is a process to continue the demining of these fields

The 850th Horizontal Engineer Company, Minnesota National Guard, is very familiar with how the demining method works Guardsmen from the 850th have a squad assigned to the Mine Action Center in Bagram as an Area Clearance Platoon to assist in the clearing of these danger zones Operations for the Area Clearance Platoon (ACP) include bulldozing unclear areas down to one meter, deep-digs with excavators, moving stockpiles of contaminated fill with dump trucks to a sifter site, and sifting through the contaminated fill to look for the unexploded ordnances

"In the [United] States, our platoon conducts normal horizontal construction so this mission has been very exciting and a good learning experience for our Soldiers," said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Manske, 3rd Platoon Sergeant, 850th Horizontal Engineer Company

The 850th also partners with civilian contractors as a quality assurance team that goes into the minefields with handheld mine detectors after ground-penetrating radar and mine-sniffing dogs have cleared the area These additional safety measures on the same soil ensure that area of earth has been decontaminated

Additionally, the Minnesota Guardsmen are tasked with the responsibility of providing a Quick Reaction Force that is ready at a moment's notice to handle minefield emergencies, such as a person or a vehicle finding themselves in a minefield thought to have been cleared

Along with the threat of contaminated minefields within the perimeter of Bagram, there are also dangers that lie just outside the wire as well Although the surrounding area near Bagram has been cleared in the past, there is the ever-present danger of finding unexploded ordinance that has remained dormant for years until it found its way closer to the surface

On June 23, 2013, the Horizontal Platoon took a mission outside the wire The assignment was to level out some old berms that were used by the Russians in the 1980's for cover from fire Once completed, this will provide a clear line of sight for security forces of Bagram, allowing for better awareness of the area If the mounds of earth are not leveled, an enemy's avenue of approach could easily be concealed allowing enemy undetected access to the perimeter fence Due to the nature of the job and the high risk of finding ordinance in the mounds of earth, the Area Clearance Platoon accepted the job knowing they were best suited for the mission

The platoon began their mission shortly after sunrise, breaching the fence that was headed away from the protection of Bagram With the assistance of security forces to provide protection, the bulldozers mounted their assault on the berms The dozers quickly made short work of the piled earth working simultaneously on opposite ends of the mission area Just after 2:00 pm, one of the dozers discovered an object in the dirt and work came to a halt The volatile item found by the blade of the dozer is a 240mm rocket

"Our Platoon has found many anti-personnel mines, a couple of anti-tank mines, and a countless number of other unexploded ordinances including fuses, old shell casings, RPG's, grenades, and warheads The big find was the 240mm rocket we unearthed just over the fence," said Manske Movement of a few acres of earth anywhere in Afghanistan is dangerous without the proper tools The heavily armored arsenal of equipment used by the third platoon is designed to resist the force of a mine if it happens to detonate while in transit or discovery This ensures protection to the personnel who operate the equipment inside

This dangerous task for the Area Clearance Platoon is just one of many that the 850th Horizontal Engineers will take on as a company With the 1st and 2nd Platoons tasked in other areas of the Regional command east territory of Afghanistan, the Minnesota Guardsmen will accomplish numerous missions during their short nine-month deployment before beginning the trip back to Minnesota

June 23, 2013
by Spc John Rader
149th Vertical Construction Company

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