|Story & photo by Tom Michele, Eagle Systems &
Soldiers training to walk across the fields of
Afghanistan today and tomorrow, are training in much the same way they
trained to walk across the fields of Europe during World War II.
Soldiers from the 744th Engineer Company, an Army Reserve unit from
Ogden, Utah, trained at Fort McCoy to deploy in support of Operation
Enduring Freedom, using the AN/PSS-14, a much-updated version of World
War II mine-detection equipment.
Sgt. Gary Allen uses an AN/PSS-14
mine detector as he sweeps an area on a Fort McCoy training
site. Allen is with the 744th Engineer Company, from Ogden,
Utah, training at Fort McCoy to deploy in support of Operation
“Today’s AN/PSS-14 mine detector is the Army’s only true mine
detector,” Mark Blackburn said. Blackburn is an instructor-trainer with
BRTRC Technology Company, St. Robert, Mo. Blackburn and his partner,
Russell Frazier, were at McCoy for a week to instruct 744th Soldiers to
be trainers on the AN/PSS-14 for the 744th.
“These Soldiers from the 744th are going to Afghanistan, a country where
the Soviets planted hundreds of thousands of land mines in the Afghan
struggles of the 1970s and ’80s,” Blackburn said. “Thousands of those
mines are still buried and unexploded.”
“Soldiers go through an operator’s course, then some of the unit’s
sergeants (E-5) and above go through a unit master trainer (UMT) course
so they will teach the operator course to their unit’s Soldiers,”
UMT course Soldiers get additional instruction on the AN/PSS-14, how to
operate the Sweep Monitoring System (SWS), how to install training
lanes, develop tactical scenarios in training, and how to establish and
administer a unit-level training program.
Part of the UMT course was the use of the SWS to measure the Soldier’s
ability to properly sweep a mine lane.
“The AN/PSS-14 is used to detect and mark a potential suspect target,”
Blackburn said. “Then the Soldier backs out of the area, detonates the
object in place, or calls explosive ordnance disposal personnel. Today
we are just training them to properly and safely sweep a threat area,
and then re-enforcing those techniques.”
Blackburn also explained the AN/PSS-14 Mine Detection System is employed
in both predicable and unpredictable scenarios.
It is used to widen existing lanes through a minefield, create new ones
or clear an entire mine obstacle. It will assist in reconnaissance
missions en route, clearing bivouac sites or supporting contingency
The AN/PSS-14 detector came into Army service in 2003 and also is used
by the Marines.
“The AN/PSS-14 is a vast improvement over today’s metallic handheld mine
detectors in that it employs an advanced state-of-the-art metallic
detector in addition to ground-penetrating radar (GPR),” Blackburn said.
If a mine is detected, an audio cue alerts the operator. The result is a
greatly improved system that will protect Soldiers and enhance their
ability to detect landmines.
Blackburn said the AN/PSS-14 is much more capable equipment than the
previous mine-detection systems, so Soldiers require more training and
practice. Unit-level sustainment training and operator licensing will be
critical to ensure the Soldiers’ safety, he said.