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Engineer Support Variant Strykers, with a front sweeping apparatus, plow along roadsides and find explosives before a convoy does.

Engineer Support Variant Strykers, with a front sweeping apparatus, plow along roadsides and find explosives before a convoy does. (Julianna Gittler / S&S)

Engineer Support Variant Strykers, with a front sweeping apparatus, plow along roadsides and find explosives before a convoy does.

Engineer Support Variant Strykers, with a front sweeping apparatus, plow along roadsides and find explosives before a convoy does. (Julianna Gittler / S&S)

The South African-developed Buffalo, called “Al Jamoose” in Arabic, can pick up and examine explosives. It’s built to withstand a massive explosion and is a new tool in the Army’s anti-bomb arsenal.

The South African-developed Buffalo, called “Al Jamoose” in Arabic, can pick up and examine explosives. It’s built to withstand a massive explosion and is a new tool in the Army’s anti-bomb arsenal. (Julianna Gittler / S&S)

FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAREZ, Iraq — Before the convoys roll out, members of the 73rd Engineer Company of the 1st Brigade (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), 25th Infantry Division make sure they have a smooth passage.

The company’s soldiers sweep the roadsides for bombs and help dig out anything they find. In the three weeks they’ve been in Iraq, they’ve uncovered a number of bombs and tank rounds burrowed into roadside dirt.

The engineers have two basic missions: They reinforce the camp to protect it from the daily barrage of mortars, and they make sure the convoys can move safely.

The latter involves nerves of steel and help from a few new toys in the Army’s anti-bomb arsenal: a Stryker modified to sweep for explosives and a mine-clearing device created in South Africa called the Buffalo, a hulking mass of metal with a long arm capable of digging out explosives.

Days ago, engineers doing a Stryker sweep came across a mound of dirt on a convoy route.

The Buffalo, called Al Jamoose in Arabic, was summoned to investigate.

“It looked like a dump truck had dropped down some dirt,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Morak, section sergeant with the mobility support platoon. “It wasn’t there before so we checked it out.”

The Buffalo team dug around and, using cameras attached to the mechanical arm, picked up and examined the contents — three 125 mm tank rounds.

Someone was trying to mess up a convoy, said Capt. Kevin Golinghorst, company commander.

Morak and Sgt. Jason Harris, the two Buffalo operators, investigate anything suspicious, such as garbage, dead animals and mounds of dirt. If they find anything, the cameras allow a safe, closer look, where they check for wires or anything out of the ordinary.

“Anything that’s out there that looks suspicious,” Morak said. “We’ve used the arm quite a bit.”

The Buffalo works in tandem with a Stryker designed with a device in front to sweep over and detonate explosives. The two vehicles precede nearly every convoy. In the three weeks they’ve been in the country, the engineer Strykers have taken out explosives three times.

Before the current company arrived, a bomb blew up under a modified Stryker belonging to the unit they replaced, destroying three of the eight tires. The vehicle rolled home on its remaining wheels and the soldiers inside were unharmed. The modified Strykers “are doing what they were designed to do,” Golinghorst said. “The soldiers were [back] out that afternoon.”

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