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14th Engineers heading back to the box

Post by News Tribune Staff on March 27, 2008 at 10:58 am with No Comments »
March 27, 2008 10:58 am

Combat artist Patrick Haskett painted this great piece depicting the 14th Engineer Battalion’s demolition of a hotel in downtown Tikrit in 2003.

Fort Lewis’ 14th Engineer Battalion is heading back to Iraq for the third time. Deployment ceremony is this afternoon at North Fort.

They were there at the beginning, and again from November 2005 to October 2006.

More from the ceremony this afternoon.

UPDATE: Here’s the story I’m sending to my editor in a second.

One of the Army’s most decorated engineer units is on its way back to Iraq for a third tour.

The 14th Combat Engineer Battalion shivvered through a deployment ceremony Thursday at Fort Lewis. In a couple weeks the 500-plus soldiers will board planes for the Middle East, and soon after that they’ll be crossing north from Kuwait to forward operating bases in Kirkuk and Tikrit, officials said.

"Most of the soldiers here will only dream about cool weather like this in July," said their commander, Lt. Col. Pete Helmlinger, as his braced in formation against the chill made worse by a biting wind.

The mission, as it was during the last trip, from November 2005 to October 2006, will be keeping the roads clear of insurgent bombs.

"This is important work, and it’s no secret that it’s dangerous," Helmlinger said. "But I am confident we will make a difference."

Roadside bombs killed the two 14th Engineer soldiers to die in the last deployment: Spc. Roberto L. Martinez Salazar, killed in February 2006, and Sgt. Gene A. Hawkins, who died that October, both in Mosul.

The battalion lost two men in his first trip, early in the war in 2003, Spc. Charles G. Haight and Sgt. Curt E. Jordan, Jr.

The battalion received a valorous unit award for its first tour, and a meritorious unit commendation for its second.

The engineers – the unit’s motto is "Rugged" – likewise were cited for their work Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

Col. Randall Fofi, commander of the 14th’s parent unit, the 555th Engineer Brigade, told the soldiers Thursday they’re part of a "battalion with a reputation second to none … with its most recent chapters among its best."

Helmlinger said about 40 percent of his soldiers have served a previous Iraq deployment, and about half of those were with the 14th on the last trip.

The commander is among those making a third trip. He was executive officer in the 555th, and before that, was operations officer in an engineer battalion from Germany.

He didn’t figure on another return, he said, but if there’s still road-clearing work to be done, it’s better that his battalion be the ones sent to do it.

The battalion will use RG-31, Cougar and Buffalo mine-resistant engineer vehicles, as well as robots. They’ll have more than the one-per-platoon they had last trip, as the Army has purchased and field more of the vehicles for what has become one of the most critical missions of the war.

The commander said he is encouraged by reports out of Iraq the past several months about declining numbers of roadside bombs.

But the battalion is not the kind of unit the Army will hide away.

"As an engineer battalion we’re always put in the hot spots," Helmlinger said.

"If (the) north should suddenly turn into a good neighborhood, we’ll get sent somewhere else."

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