Where the IEDs Lie, the Buffalo Roams

Spec. Abe McCann, 29, of Tombstone, Ariz., operated the steel arm of the Buffalo during a mission in Baghdad to locate improvised explosive devises.
Spec. Abe McCann, 29, of Tombstone, Ariz., operated the steel arm of the Buffalo during a mission in Baghdad to locate improvised explosive devises. (Jackie Spinner -- The Washington Post)
By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 29, 2005

BAGHDAD -- The padded walls and bulletproof glass kept the sound of the world out as the crew of the Buffalo ambled down the highway at a grazing pace, examining litter.

Boxes. Rags. Bags. Dead dogs. The American soldiers riding in the military's newest weapon against roadside bombs scrutinized everything they saw beneath their windows.

"Hey, he says he sees a rag," Staff Sgt. Matthew Dzuricky, 28, of Erie, Pa., called out to his men in the Buffalo, a lumbering South African armored personnel carrier designed to withstand land mines. Against all conventional Baghdad traffic wisdom, the Buffalo headed straight at the rag, a potential roadside bomb.

"I see the rag," Spec. Abe McCann, 29, of Tombstone, Ariz., piped back. "It's clear."

"Rag clear," Dzuricky said through the radio, and the Buffalo moved along.

One of the most dangerous assignments in Iraq is now one of its most critical, as the U.S. military tries to deal with the growing threat of lethal roadside bomb attacks. The number of U.S. troops who have died in the Iraq war hit 2,000 on Tuesday, and more than half of the soldiers killed in the last six months died from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Officials said three U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq on Thursday night by such bombs.

Up to 12 times a week, soldiers from Echo Company, Task Force 4-64, patrol the streets of Baghdad trying to locate roadside bombs before they go off, killing or injuring troops. The task force is part of the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.

At the center of their mission is the Buffalo, which rides on monster tires and has a steel retractable arm that can poke for potential roadside bombs at a 16-foot distance. Its V-shaped body rides much higher off the ground than a Humvee and is better able to withstand a bomb blast.

"It's not invincible but it's better than the Humvee getting hit," Dzuricky said.

The men who ride the Buffalo are well aware of the dangers of their mission. Among soldiers in Iraq, IEDs are one of the most feared insurgent weapons. Crude or sophisticated, the bombs explode in a deadly spray of shrapnel and fire. Most military convoys race at breakneck speeds down highways where roadside bombs are frequent. They steer around soda cans, craters, boxes, anything that could potentially be a bomb or hide a bomb.

On Wednesday this week, Dzuricky commanded the Buffalo on a patrol of a main north-south thoroughfare through Baghdad. Pfc. Michael Creed, 22, of Masuary, Ohio, drove the 26-ton vehicle. McCann operated the retractable arm, and Sgt. Rayner Lopez, 23, of Miami scouted from the window in the rear of the vehicle.

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