August 24th, 2007 08:31 EST
173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team at work
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The first U.S. casualty from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan was Army Sgt. Jay Blessing, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Nov. 14, 2003. Blessing was in a convoy that was attacked just seven miles from camp in Afghanistan`s Kunar province.
United States and Afghan national security forces of the camp Blessing failed to reach that day started calling their camp, Camp Blessing to remember and honor the fallen Ranger.
He gave his life helping the Afghan people, " Collin Johnson, who served with Blessing, said at the time, This will remind every Soldier that comes here of his sacrifice. "
Four years later, Soldiers from 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based at the camp that bears his name now carry on Blessing`s hopes for a free Afghanistan. The once small outpost has expanded dramatically to become the base of operations for Task Force Bayonet.
One constant, despite the changes, is that military personnel still drive the same road to Camp Blessing that was used four years ago.
Keeping the road safe is even harder now than when Blessing`s convoy traveled it. Al-Qaida has influenced Taliban and other extremists in Afghanistan to use IED attacks against forces supporting the legitimate government of Afghanistan in more frequent numbers.
Blessing was the only service member killed by an IED in 2003. In 2004, 12 members died from IED attacks. Eight months into 2007 IEDs have killed 45 military personnel, according to www.icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks these statistics closely.
The numbers would be even higher if it wasn`t for a special group of people travelling the roads ahead of convoys to help reduce the threat and number of IEDs.
The Route Clearance Package for Task Force Rock is from Alpha Company, Special Troops Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
The RCP patrols the roads seven days a week searching for IEDs.
The RCP is Task Force Rock`s first line of defense against IED attacks. The RCP clears roads to all of Task Force Rock`s forward operating bases and fire bases.
On Aug. 15, the RCP cleared the road into Chowkay Valley, which has been a site of fighting for several years. Task Force Rock recently lost Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Hall, a platoon leader in Destined Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), during a fire fight in the valley July 31.
There is one spot where three separate attacks were carried out, " said Army 1st Lt. William Cromie, a RCP Platoon leader in Alpha Company, who is from New Jersey.
The spot Cromie spoke of is a bend in the road a few miles into the valley. Destined Co., 2-503rd, Afghan Security Guard and an element from Cromie`s platoon have been attacked by Taliban extremists at the bend.
A few weeks prior to the patrol, the RCP found an IED a few hundred feet in front of the ambush point.
Cromie`s platoon has found two IED`s since arriving in country three months ago.
I love what I do, " said Cromie. It`s a very unforgiving job, but the job is extremely rewarding when we find something. "
By Sgt. Brandon Aird