I am a Combat Engineer.
I am one of a few thousand American soldiers lucky enough to be tasked with making a new mission work for the Army. That mission is route clearance. Remember those roadside bombs you hear about? Our job is to go looking for them, and destroy or neutralize them before they can hurt other troops or innocent Iraqis. It's a brand new role for the engineer corps, and one that can easily be likened to searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Given the odds we face, it's amazing how often we find the needle. I won't go into specifics here, but I will say if this were baseball, we'd have a damn good batting average. Even better, we have the best equipment in the world for our job. Tanks have more armor and better protection against direct fire, but we can take a bomb blast in a way that no other US or foreign vehicle could ever hope to.
Whenever I'm talking to someone outside of my unit, the conversation always follows roughly the same pattern: They ask what I do, I tell them route clearance, they give me a quick glance to see if I seem ok in the head (Like I asked for this job!), and then they tell me what a great job we're doing and how much they appreciate our efforts. Translation: 'I'm sure glad it's you and not me, bro.' It's one thing to go outside the wire hoping you won't be blown up. It's a completely different matter when you leave expecting to be blown up.
This mission is a good one for the engineers. It falls under the traditional engineer duty: clear the way for others to follow. We've always moved in front of the maneuver force, clearing wire, obstacles, mines, and now, IEDs. As I've already mentioned, route clearance is the job that no sane person really wants to do. I can see why; it's reportably the second most dangerous job in Iraq right now (after Special Operations), and yet remains one of the most important roles to fill. No matter. Engineers are right at home in the thick of the fight, far from home, doing the necessary but unwanted jobs. It's not fun, it's not glamorous, and it's nothing to write home about, but we can see the difference we make.