FORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanistan -- The Taliban will use just about anything to hide bombs, and a perfect spot is a culvert underneath a road.
Now many of the culverts near this base in Kandahar province are no longer prime bomb-hiding locations, thanks to the ingenuity of a Wisconsin soldier.
Cpl. Eric DeHart, 38, of Birnamwood, worked as a senior designer for Wausau Homes before deciding to join the Army for the first time at the age of 36, losing 80 pounds in six months to enlist. When his Army Reserves unit -- Wausau-based 428th Engineer Co. -- arrived in southern Afghanistan last fall, his platoon leader asked him to solve the culvert problem.
An engineer by trade, DeHart began to think about the best way to make culverts safe from roadside bombs, and soon he came up with a solution, which isn't surprising for a guy motivated to drop so much weight in a short time to become a U.S. soldier.
At first DeHart thought about building devices in a few sizes, but he soon learned that although culverts in the U.S. are uniformly sized, that's not the case in Afghanistan, where it seems every culvert is built differently.
Then he hit on a solution.
"If we used a cone, you could shove it in and it can fit anything from 12 inches to 36 inches," said DeHart, a 1992 White Lake High School grad.
His culvert-denial system -- which looks like a screen across the opening -- allows water and debris to pass through but doesn't leave enough space for improvised explosive devices.
His platoon leader, 1st Lt. Jeremy Crochiere, attended a class on IED threats in culverts before arriving in Afghanistan. When he met DeHart on this deployment, he learned DeHart was an engineer. Crochiere noted that previous U.S. military attempts at culvert denial systems didn't work because they plugged up with water and debris, especially during the rainy season.
DeHart's plan "was something that looked like it worked, and we tried it out," said Crochiere, 27, of Minocqua. "When we told (another unit) we had a homegrown system that works, they were pretty excited."
DeHart started working on his culvert-denial system in December, and by January had built his prototype from scratch, using half-inch and 5/8-inch rebar he scrounged from another unit and borrowing the tools he needed, including grinding wheels and welding rods.
He did all the cutting and welding of the initial devices and figures he spent about 50 hours of his free time -- he drives a Buffalo road clearance vehicle and works in intelligence in the 428th -- for the concept, initial construction and training. He also wrote a manual explaining how to install the device in the field. The rest of the culvert denial systems were built by a brigade support battalion.
The 428th installed four devices -- now called the DeHart Culvert Denial System -- and the 101st Airborne placed more than 30 in Kandahar province.
No IEDs have been found in those culverts since they were installed last winter.
"To me, that's a success story," said Capt. Jim Servi, commander of the 428th. "The ingenuity and initiative guys like DeHart have -- they're never satisfied. They want to make things better."
Engineering plans for DeHart's culvert denial system were sent to other units throughout southern Afghanistan. Aside from the 101st Airborne, no other units have yet used them. But DeHart, who is returning home to his wife and 11-year-old daughter next month, is hopeful his system will make roads safer throughout Afghanistan.
"It made my tour over here worthwhile," DeHart said. "I wanted to leave something permanent in Afghanistan."
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