It started with the email below.

Cheryl and JR,

Hi, I’m the Route Clearance Platoon Leader who has talked to yall a couple times at Shoja. Back around 23DEC2011, we were walking back in the gate and JR snapped some shots of my Platoon.  I’d love to get some copies of those, as I (like a good concerned leader) don’t feel my guys get enough positive attention.  They do great things with a job that isn’t the sexiest out there (driving slow looking for
roadside bombs).

Thanks again if you can help me out.
David L. Brandl
1LT, EN, United States Army

I’ll admit I have a soft spot for combat engineers. My dad served as a combat engineer in Vietnam, so I understood the 1LT Brandl’s appeal to get some recognition for his men. JR immediately went digging through his photos to find the portrait, even though he didn’t specifically remember it. And I sent Brandl a message and told him to come by and visit with us and I’d write a blog post about his men. JR delivered the photo; now I’m honoring my part of the promise.

Some of the soldiers with the 2nd Platoon 73rd Engineer Company pose for a group portrait at Forward Operating Base Shoja on Dec. 23, 2011. The combat engineers conduct daily road clearance missions to keep the roads open for travel and free of explosives. Photo by JR Ancheta

“We do route clearance for the 1-5 Infantry Battalion,” said Brandl, 24, from Cary, N.C. “We drive specifically routes that are historically know for IEDs. We try to find them before they find you or they find someone else. We take a sense of responsibility. If we’ve driven it, we can guarantee it, to a certain degree.”

They can’t complete guarantee it because they know explosives have been planted after they clear a route.

“We’ve been here so long, they kind of know what we’re doing,” Brandl said. “There’s been times where they wait until we pass by and they put it in after us. It’s a game of cat and mouse.”

His men have learned to pay attention to detail.

“The first month, oh my goodness, (I thought) 90 percent of this is going to kill me,” Brandl said. “After a couple of months, you notice only the five percent that’s different that you really need to be careful around.

“Someone named us the ‘window lickers.’ We drive slow cuz we’re looking for the small things,” Brandl said. “It’s the five percent. The small things and that gut feeling. It’s uncanny that feeling you get: there’s something around here.”

Brandl had nothing but praise for the men with whom he serves.

“I don’t think my guys get enough attention. We go out a lot compared to other units,” Brandl said. “It’s not one of the sexy jobs. We’re not kicking down doors.

“We’re the guys who are going to go out first and test the roads. I guess it’s a badge of honor.”

And we learned JR and I owed 2nd Platoon a debt of gratitude: they cleared the roads before Charlie Company’s air assault mission.

It’s important to remember three members of the 73rd Engineers, the first soldiers of the 1/25th Strkyer Brigade Combat Team killed in action in May 2011Spc. Bradley Louis Melton, Pvt. Cheizray Pressley and Pvt. Lamarol Jerome Tucker were killed during an IED attack in Spin Ghbarga, Zabul Province, Afghanistan

I’m adding their other group photo. This one’s a bit more lively. As JR has noticed with most group shots of soldiers, they don’t stay serious too long.

Some of the soldiers of the 2nd Platoon 73rd Engineer Company strike a few poses during a group portait at FOB Shoja in Kandahar province. 1LT David Brandl (not pictured), 24, from Cary, N.C., leads the platoon and said he wanted his men to get some recognition for the tough road clearing work they do. Photo by JR Ancheta