Company B's Christmas: Quiet night repairing roads
Marines trying to make it more difficult to hide explosives.

Tribune Staff Writer

WEST OF FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Road repair is another job South Bend's Marine Reservists do.

One night this week, a handful of Engineer Company B leathernecks were part of a group that headed toward Ramadi on a route repair mission. They returned to the compound just as dawn offered the first hint of its arrival.

Route repair missions are usually conducted late at night when Marines can concentrate on their task, rather than worry about who might be in a crowd of spectators. A 10 p.m. curfew for the local population means that the only ones on the roads are military. During the day, drivers would have to endure long delays. This schedule works out for both sides.

The assigned task was to smooth a stretch of roadside to make it more difficult to hide improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The road itself would also be improved with a road grader by scraping off a layer of dirt that had covered the hard surface.

Cpl. Scott Schantz, of Hastings, Mich., served with the mission's security detail. He sat in a Humvee turret armed with a .50-caliber machine gun and kept a sharp eye on everything going on. He said the route repair missions seem to attract little unwanted attention."I've been on about 30 missions and have never had to fire my weapon," Schantz said. "We've had a few minor incidents, but nothing serious."

This mission also passed uneventfully.

Cpl. Casey Vermillion, of Mishawaka, was the star of the show, operating the road grader.

At one point, a stick of C4 explosives, wrapped with detcord, was discovered. Cpl. Christopher Yoder, of Nappanee, was called over to investigate.

"It's nothing to worry about," he quickly announced. He picked it up and took it somewhere safe for later disposal.It was the first time Yoder had been called on to inspect an explosive device. He said he normally conducts searches for explosives: "I usually sit in the truck and wait for them to call me to sweep a hole with a mine detector."

He said the unit spends most of its time repairing blast holes.

Blast holes are left by IEDs that have exploded. Route repair missions are assigned sections of roads to travel looking for blast holes. A mine detector is used to make sure nothing else is in the hole before it is patched. Patching the road makes it harder for another IED to be placed in the same spot, and it improves the road for all traffic.

As the route repair mission progressed, another group of South Bend Marines passed by. Gunnery Sgt. John Kroll, of Valparaiso, Ind., was with this mission, conducting route clearance. His 10-hour mission also passed quietly -- as have many lately. "Five gigs and nothing."

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