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Dismounted sappers take on Karbala's mean streets

ARCENT Release

Release Date: 5/20/2004

Story and photo by Spc. Andrew Meissner 1AD PAO

KARBALA, IRAQ (May 20, 2004) - The late morning skies were overcast and a breeze blew through the trees. The air was cooler than usual. The order came over the radio for the troops to dismount.

The combat engineers from B Company, 16th Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division, piled out of their M113 armored personnel carriers and onto the wide Karbala streets.

Following behind M1A1 Abrams tanks, squads took staggered positions on either side of the avenue.

The tanks' engines bathed the combat engineers with blast furnace heat from their exhaust vents. So much for the cool weather.

The Soldier's tactical march up the ruined Karbala street was short in terms of distance, perhaps only two kilometers, but lengthy in time. Tanks, M113s and Soldiers slowly closed on the area where they had encountered resistance in the days before.

"Recon by fire" is the method used here explained Sgt. 1st Class James Flum, a B Company platoon sergeant.

"When the tanks are rolling, if they see something that looks (like an improvised explosive devise) they will put a few rounds in it." Flum said that once the IED has been disabled, then the engineers step in. "That's when they'll call us forward to place some C-4 (explosives) and blow it in place" he said. "It's an excellent process and it works every time."

The tanks turned off to another area of the vacant neighborhood, but two squads of engineers and three M113s continued their reconnaissance patrol in a forward direction.

As they pushed further into the city, the Soldiers heard the quick cracking report of enemy rifle fire. As the Soldiers took cover, the walls opposite their position erupted in tiny puffs.

Snipers had been laying in wait.

The dismounted Soldiers and their tracks vehicles turned their weapons to the structures across the street.

The enemy shooters were very close, but did not posses the skill or nerve to hold an aim long enough to hit any of the Soldiers. The large caliber weapons on the tracks pushed out their heavy brass with a roar.

The Soldiers paid close attention to any movement, or suspected sniper perches.

Spc. Angel Ramos, track commander, said he knows what he needs to do in a firefight.

"I started laying some suppressive fire down the alleyway, while (the dismounts) were trying to get into the vehicle."

Spc. Snowden Neill, a combat engineer, also laid down covering fire for his comrades.

"I carry a (Squad Automatic Weapon)," he said. "I have to put down suppression. I look for something that would be ideal for a sniper's spot."

If the engineers could not kill the sniper, at least they would deny him any advantageous positions to occupy.

Systematically the column assailed windows, balconies and rooftops.

As angry rifles barked, the drapes in one of the suspected windows caught fire, smoke poured from the building.

Backing out of the kill zone, the patrol met with their company's main body and exited the area. No more shots were heard from the area.

Afterwards there were laughs from the Soldiers about their close call.

But they know they were in a serious situation, said Ramos.

"At least everybody came out safe, and there were no injuries, so it was a good day," he said.

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