Amy Schlesing in her Notes from a War blog writes about the “peaceful life” in the country where the 875th operate.

It’s kind of surreal, standing out on this highway amid the farms and the roadside shacks where people sell soft drinks and black market fuel.

At one house, a woman fully cloaked in layers of dress with a black robe and headscarf goes about her house work, pounding dirt out of rugs hanging over the mud wall of her house.

Children play with goats in a nearby field as a man tends to his flock of sheep.

The houses are simple, made out of mud bricks and cinderblock. Some have privacy fences made of dried palm fronds. Others have mud walls. Small ponds flank the roadway, lined with reeds and date palm trees.

In the distance is a date farm with a large house with columns and balconies. Egrets and cranes fly from one pond to the next, looking for food. Sandpipers peck the ground.

Trucks roll down the highway hauling sheep, water containers, onions.

Life goes on here alongside a road routinely blown up by the bombs of insurgents. It makes for an interesting clash between a deadly road and, at first glance, seemingly peaceful life in the country.

It’s not all peaceful. Some houses are pocked with bullet holes. Soldiers have searched these homes, looking for bombers and bomb materials. They’ve found some, too.

There’s more from this terrific reporter.

Half a year into their deployment, the 875th Engineers have suffered their first loss.

The Department of Defense announced late yesterday that Specialist Erich Smallwood of Trumann died on Saturday near Balad, Iraq. The 23-year-old suffered wounds when an explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

He was assigned to the 875th Engineer Battalion of the Arkansas National Guard in Marked Tree.

This has hit them hard. Pray for the family and friends of Erich Smallwood and pray for the 875th.

There’s more at Sapper Central.