A Long Day
This bag is different. It is supposed to be a bomb.
Resisting the urge to get closer for a better look, I raise the binoculars to my eyes again. If it is a bomb, it is in a perfect location to hit a vehicle leaving the main road and heading into town towards the Alamo.
I am starting to become more convinced.
Turning on my heels I walk past the HMMWV blocking the road and over to an Iraq police cruiser. In the back seat of the cruiser is an Iraqi man. He is nervous, with perspiration dripping down his face and onto his neck. The chest of his loose brown shirt is saturated, and I can tell that he is uncomfortable being in the police vehicle. He is wearing a green medical cravat around his face, hiding his identity, topped with a New York Yankees baseball cap. He is also wearing my sunglasses.
“Are you sure this is the right place?”
Spider translates, and the man emphatically nods his head.
“Yes, this is it. I saw a black plastic bag and wires. There was a radio attached to it.”
The man leans out the window and points directly at the bushes. I stare at the pale green prickly plant again and the black plastic bag caught in its leaves.
I still don’t see anything.
Not sure what to think, I shake my head. The thought crosses my mind that this guy may be setting us up for an ambush.
It has been known to happen.
To my right I hear a commotion. An Iraqi Policeman is shouting at a boy that has just blissfully ridden his bicycle past the cordon and right up to the black plastic bag. Hearing the shouting the boy looks confused and he dismounts from his bicycle. At first, I think that the Iraqi Policeman is telling the boy to move away from the bag. Then I realize that he is telling the boy to go look into the bushes.
I cross my fingers.
The boy shrugs his shoulders and walks casually over to the bushes. Leaning down, he studies something on the ground. He stops dead, and then hesitantly leans closer for a better look.
He turns and takes off at a run.
Even from this distance, I can tell he is as white as a sheet.
I may not be able to see the bomb, but that is good enough for me. Walking over to my vehicle, I pick up the hand-mike.
“Warrior Alamo this is Warrior 2/6, stand by for IED/UXO Report.”
“Roger Warrior 2/6, send it.”
I send up the date, time, and grid location, as well as what other little information I have. Once the report is sent, I am informed that EOD has been dispatched to my location.
It may be nothing. A piece of trash. An overactive imagination. But I have to act as if there is a bomb in the bushes.
Leaning into the HMMWV I grab a bottle of Gatorade from the cooler. It is lukewarm. Twisting the top off, I begin to turn towards Spider to ask him a question.
The bomb detonates with a tremendous thundering roll and a violent surge of dust and debris.
A shower of dirt rains down, and I feel something hot down the back of my neck. The mushroom cloud of dust rises several stories in the air, and the blast wave shakes the vehicle. Jagged chunks of twisted steel, warped from the heat of the explosion rain down on the road. On the far side of the explosion, White 4 disappears in the cloud of dust and dirt.
That was close.
My stomach twisting for White 4, I turn and grab the handset.
“Is everyone okay!?”
“White 4 okay!”
“White 2 okay!”
I exhale a breath that I had not realized I was holding. No damage and no injuries.
I quickly notify battalion that the suspected IED has in fact exploded, and that it was triggered by someone other than us. Whoever he was, he must have realized that we had discovered the bomb and got tired of waiting for us to approach.
So he blew it.
“Did anyone see a triggerman!?”
Thru bad static I faintly hear the voice of the gunner of White 2. He is shouting excitedly into the radio handset.
“Sir! I see a guy about a half-mile down the road! Just after the explosion he left that berm on the north and is walking to a vehicle! It’s a gray hatchback with a roof-rack!”
“Roger, White 2, go get ‘em.”
White 2 peels off from its position and starts barreling down the road to the west. In the distance, I hear warning shots from White 2 as he attempts to clear a path to the suspected insurgent. The Iraqis on the road, too spooked from the explosion, refuse to move their cars quickly, and the path to the hatchback is blocked. With frustration and anger in his voice, White 2 reports that the hatchback has gotten away.
“Roger White 2, we will stand by for EOD.”
Standing above the crater looking down, I am amazed at how massive it is.
Five feet deep and eleven feet long.
Jumping down into it, I level my hand and measure its height. It comes up to my chest. According to EOD, the bomb was multiple 155 Howitzer shells buried into the side of the roadway.
The Iraqi man with the Yankees baseball cap has definitely saved someone’s life.
It is dusk, and I can make out the moon and the stars as we are get ready to leave the blast site. EOD has already left, and in the growing darkness my men are doing final sweeps to ensure that we have checked everything before we leave and return to the Alamo.
“Sir, this is White 2, I think I found something!”
The radio blasts with the sound of my gunners excited voice.
“What have you got White 2?”
“I think its some kind of rocket! It’s a big metal tube and it looks like it has fins!”
It doesn’t sound like we are leaving yet.
“Alright White 2, where is it?”
“Ah, Sir, it is on the north side of the road. I got out of the vehicle to take a piss, and just as I was pissing I was saying to myself ‘wouldn’t it be fucked up if I was pissing on an IED’ and then I looked down, and no shit, there was a rocket! I was pissing on the rocket!”
Despite myself, I can’t help but smile.
“Okay White 2, you did a good job, drop a chem-light to mark the site and pull back another hundred meters, I will call EOD back.”
Down the road in the dark I see a green chem-light flash into existence and drop to the center of the road. White 2 pulls off another hundred meters and stages, blocking traffic until EOD arrives… again.
The EOD Sergeant pulls back from the computer screen. There, clearly revealed by the robots camera and lights, is a metal cylinder with three short triangular fins. The robot is motionless in the darkness, crouching over the rocket like a steel grasshopper on its miniature tank treads as it allows the EOD Sergeant to see thru its eyes from a safe distance.
It is like watching R2D2 go to work.
Smiling, the EOD Sergeant turns to me.
“That is a Surface to Air missile. It is probably Russian, although it appears to be only one stage of the rocket. We are going to blow it in place.”
The Sergeant cocks his head to one side and smiles again, “Unless you would want to do it?”
Crouching on the side of the road I pull the adhesive off of three blocks of C4 plastic explosive. Three hundred meters to the east and west, traffic has been stopped on the road, the cars waiting silently in the darkness. It is just the EOD Sergeant and myself in the dark stretch of road next to the rocket. His vehicle is parked behind me, its engine running for a quick getaway.
Once I trigger the fuse, we will have less than 45 seconds to get away before it blows.
Gently I lay the blocks of C4 along the length of the rocket, overlapping each block by layering one on top of the other. Pushing the blocks down firmly, I insert the small, shiny blasting cap into the end of the final block, and grasping the fuse assembly attached to the end of the det cord, I nod to the EOD tech in the darkness.
He nods back.
“Fire in the Hole! Fire in the Hole! Fire in the Hole!”
With a twist of my finger I push down, turn, and then pull the fuse back out. Immediately a thin wisp of white smoke begins to emit from the charge.
I haul ass.
Jumping into the EOD vehicle, the driver guns the engine and we shoot off down the road to the eastern cordon of vehicles. Reaching a safe distane, I dismount as quickly as I can. Walking around to the front of the vehicle, I turn to watch the coming blast.
And then it blows.
With a spectacular fiery flash and a thunderous report, the rocket is blown into pieces. In the darkness, the dust cloud is much harder to make out, but the flash and report are far greater.
Propelled by the explosion, fragments of steel, concrete, and rocks, are propelled outward in all directions.
I am hit.
I feel a sharp blow to my abdomen below my body armor, just as my mind registers the blast. The blow doubles me over, and knocks me back on my feet.
I don’t want to look.
Gingerly reaching down I feel for wetness, for the sign that I am cut and bleeding. I close my eyes and check for pain.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I open my eyes. Turning to the worried EOD Sergeant who is standing next to me, my eyes meet his. He has seen me knocked backwards and doubled over by the blast.
“Hey Sergeant, would you have a look?”
Bending, the Sergeant pulls out his white surefire flashlight and inspects my uniform. He reaches his hand out and feels for any wetness, just as I had done.
Straightening, he looks relieved. “Sir, I think your okay. You must have been hit by a rock or a piece of pavement projected by the blast. If it was a piece of shrapnel, it would have cut you. You will probably have a bad bruise. That’s all.”
Inwardly, I breathe another sigh of relief and start to laugh.
I can’t help it. It has been a long day.