Pfc. Shayne Cossette stands in front of the Buffalo roadside bomb hunting vehicle that he drives through the Iraqi city of Abu Ghraib.

Pfc. Shayne Cossette stands in front of the Buffalo roadside bomb hunting vehicle that he drives through the Iraqi city of Abu Ghraib. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

ABU GHRAIB, Iraq — In the hunt for roadside bombs, the best technology in the world doesn’t stand up against four sets of eyeballs.

“It’s not an exact science,” said Sgt. Rashe Hall of Company B, 27th Engineer Battalion from Fort Bragg, N.C. “It’s just the guys looking [for them].”

Hall leads a four-man team of soldiers in the large, six-wheeled, heavily armored beast known as the Buffalo to search the roads around Abu Ghraib.

Altogether, 15 soldiers from the company are assigned to the Task Force Iron Claw roadside bomb patrols for the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.

Two or three times a day a team drives its Buffalo slowly down the town’s main roads looking for something — anything — that doesn’t look right.

“As many times as we go, [if we] see something suspicious … we take a second look,” said Pfc. Samuel Gill, who operates the Buffalo’s 30-foot remote-controlled arm.

The soldiers will use the arm to poke and prod trash, rubble or even a dead dog to see if it contains a bomb, which soldiers call an IED, or improvised explosive devise.

Pfc. Kenneth Johnson, the Buffalo’s assistant navigator, said the soldiers recently found one made up of two large-caliber artillery shells wrapped in a bag, covered in rubble at the base of a concrete sign. A black wire leading from the rubble was the only indication that the pile needed a closer look.

“Every day we learn something new,” said Hall, 23, of Ventura, Calif. “Just because you saw it [before] doesn’t mean it won’t be something next time.”

The unit has found nine IEDs in its two months of searching Abu Ghraib’s streets and has put 2,400 kilometers on its Buffalo.

The three Buffalos working in the 1st Cavalry Division around Baghdad have cleared nearly 36,000 kilometers of roads and found 222 IEDs.

And a fourth Buffalo recently joined the hunt.

With its large viewing windows along the length of its body and high passenger’s compartment, the Buffalo gives soldiers a commanding view of the road.

From the outside, the vehicle looks like an SUV on steroids, seating six with plenty of legroom, air conditioning and a rifle holder at each seat.

But it wasn’t designed for comfort; it was designed to find bombs. The Buffalo has cameras that allow the soldiers to see at night and a radio frequency jammer to foil remote-control triggered IEDs.

And if a bomb does go off, the Buffalo can survive the explosion.

“It’s overall a well-built vehicle,” said Hall. “It can always drive back on its own, dragging whatever it’s got on it and running on flats.”

Johnson watched a bomb explode at the end of a Buffalo’s mechanical arm in November. He was in a Humvee about 150 meters from the blast.

“When it first blew … I thought people inside would be hurt,” said the 19-year-old native of Ball Ground, Ga. “When I found out nobody was hurt, it gave me a lot more confidence in the Buffalo.”

“It’s 24 tons of rolling steel,” said driver Pfc. Shayne Cossette.

Finding an IED doesn’t bother the 20-year-old Gill “unless it’s monstrous,” said the Morris, Okla., native. “I’m more worried about rocket-propelled grenades.”

The soldiers said that RPG teams have targeted Buffalos in the past because the team’s hunting skills put a dent in the insurgents’ plans. The unit averages about one IED per week, meaning that the majority of its patrols, which last about four to six hours, are uneventful.

“I don’t get bored,” said Cossette, 22, of Norwood, Mass. “Usually I’m driving an’ focusing on different things. I’m always keeping track of something: speed, pace, and what’s on the side of the road.”

When they do find something, their patience pays off.

“It feels good to finally find what you’re looking for after maybe 30 hours of looking,” said Cossette.

“With the Buffalo, they get to see their results,” Hall said of the unit’s soldiers. “It clicks for them. It’s one of the things that gives us a sense of accomplishment.”

“We save people’s lives,” said Gill, “whether [those of] soldiers or kids out in the street.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now