A massive, twin truck-bombing killed nine paratrooper scouts in Iraq in the deadliest day for the 82nd Airborne Division since Vietnam. On April 23, a dumptruck full of explosives rammed a patrol base in the Sunni town of Baqubah northwest of Baghdad, exploding and destroying a protective wall. A second truck raced through the gap and exploded inside, collapsing a building and killing nine soldiers from 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment.
The unit, a former tank battalion, was reactivated a couple years back as one of the 82nd’s new Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA) squadrons equipped with sophisticated Long-Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System. LRAS3, as it’s called, is a tripod-mounted infrared and electro-optical camera system coupled with a laser rangefinder and designator, and is used to spot targets from miles away.
RSTA squadrons are a key facet of the Army’s plan to get lighter and cover more ground with fewer troops. That kind of dispersion requires very accurate intelligence in order to respond quickly to problems developing in those areas where you don’t have soldiers. In Iraq, RSTA units haul their scout systems onto hilltops or other vantage points, often far from other troops, and sit and watch for hours; sometimes they operate out of outlying patrol bases like the one that was bombed. Whether you call them RSTA, scouts or cavalry, these guys perform what is, traditionally, one of the most dangerous jobs in the Army.