By Sgt. Jacob Harrer
2nd Marine Division
PATROL BASE WISHTAN, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – The pointman of a patrol spotted something sticking out of the ground. He immediately identified it as an improvised explosive device, the number one killer of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Rodriguez, the lead man in the patrol, had to clear a safe path for the explosive ordinance disposal team to respond to the device. Using his metal detector, he swept the area until he heard the beep – a signal that confirmed there was metal buried in the dirt. When the EOD team arrived, they confirmed a second IED on the spot.
“It was pretty nerve-racking,” said Rodriguez, a mortarman by trade with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “I’m usually very relaxed, but I was definitely nervous standing right on top of an IED.”
He said the pointman has one of the most dangerous jobs in the platoon. His job is to select a safe path for the patrol, visually inspecting every step he takes while still on the lookout for the enemy.
“His job is primarily just to safeguard his force by using his brain, his experience, his insight, and his intuition to figure out where the IEDs are most likely and then avoiding those areas,” said Capt. David T. Russell, Weapons Company commander. “The metal detector is a backup to double-check what his brain and his eyes are telling him.”
To make his job harder, insurgents began constructing IEDs to circumvent the metal detector. Some IEDs contain rudimentary materials: wooden boards and blocks, trash and plastic containers. The finished product contains very little metal, making it difficult for the metal detector to pick up.
The pointman searches for subtle clues to visually detect IEDs, explained Rodriguez, a 19-year-old native of San Jose, Calif.
After the pointman scans the area with his eyes and sweeps the ground with his metal detector, he keeps walking.
The rest of the squad follows the route strictly to avoid triggering a pressure-sensitive IED, said Cpl. Adam McKinley, a squad leader with Weapons Company, and a native of Sacramento, Calif.
“It’s a very taxing and demanding job, and that sweeper has to be on high alert the entire time he’s outside the wire,” explained Russell, a San Antonio native. “He knows the lives of the Marines behind him are very, very much in his hands.”
The Marines of Weapons Company were responsible for securing Wishtan, a village packed with walled compounds and many danger areas, such as narrow alleyways and intersections.
Despite the IED threat, Rodriguez said he doesn’t feel much fear when he leads patrols, because after months of being a pointman, he gained confidence in his abilities.
“I’m not going to say I don’t fear anything out here, because I do,” said Rodriguez. “There is a possibility of stepping on an IED, but going out every day, you know where to walk and you know what to do. You know where to go.”
Editor’s Note: Third Battalion, 7th Marines, serve under Regimental Combat Team 6, which is a part of Task Force Leatherneck. Second Marine Division (Forward) heads Task Force Leatherneck, the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest), and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.