Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Routine

The concussion from the controlled detonation sends a visible shockwave thru the air, and the flash and thick smoke quickly obscures my view down the highway. From inside my vehicle, the explosion appears in slow motion, a bright crimson flash followed by a sharp report and billowing smoke.

Wiping the stinging sweat off my face, I key the radio handset.

“This is White 2, give me your status.”

The three other vehicles in my patrol check in, letting me know that no one was hurt by the blast.

This is starting to be routine.

Unlocking the combat lock, I crack the heavy door and breathe in the air of the desert. This far outside of the city, the usual stench has dissipated and the hot, thick air smells almost fresh. With the air conditioner in the vehicle broken, the heat is especially brutal.

At times the sweat dripping into my eyes is so bad that I can hardly see.

Dismounting, I step over to the front of my vehicle and look thru my binoculars. To the east, a pile of charred rubble and trash has been scattered by the blast. On the far side of the blast, three hundred meters out, White 4 is blocking the road with his vehicle and preventing the long line of civilian traffic from approaching the IED.

This was a lucky one.

The IED was spotted by the sharp eyes of one of my drivers. How he managed to spot the artillery shell hidden in the pile of trash as we hurtled down the main supply route at 55 miles an hour is beyond me.

Shaking my head, I look thru my binoculars at the burning, scattered trash, and I try to ignore the glare of the harsh sunlight off the lens. There is a bright orange glow coming from the charred and scattered trash pile. I turn to my squad leader and hand him the binoculars.

“What do you make of it?”

He gazes thru the optics for a minute, and then hands them back to me with a shrug.

“Probably just a burning piece of trash.”

On the other side of the blast crater, I can see my team leader dismount from White 4 and begin to walk towards the blast crater accompanied by a Sergeant from EOD. I raise my right hand and wave towards the blast crater.

“Alright, let’s go do a crater analysis.”

As I move east along the road, my eyes scan the berms lining the route for any sign of a triggerman or an impending ambush. On my right, I can see that my squad leader is doing the same.

Someone has hidden the IED in the trash pile, and the insurgent waiting to detonate it might still be out there.

A sudden motion on the road ahead of me causes me to look up. The White 4 team leader and the EOD Sergeant have stopped short of the crater, and are staring at the burning piece of trash on the ground.

Then the EOD Sergeant turns and runs.

My blood running cold, I stop dead.

Ahead of me, my team leader is frantically waving us back, trying to get us to back away from the burning object.

He doesn’t need to tell me twice.

Walking rapidly backwards while observing the burning trash, I make it back to my HMMWV in half the time it had taken for us to approach the crater.

My squad leader is right behind me.

Reaching into the vehicle, I pick up the platoon handset.

“What’s going on?”

Thru the static, I hear the breathless voice of my team leader.

“Sir, you see that orange glow coming out of the trash pile?”

“Roger, the burning piece of trash?”

“Ah, Sir, that’s not a piece of trash. It is another 155 round that has cracked open and is burning. It must have been hidden underneath the one that we detonated! It scared the crap out of EOD!”

No kidding. It scared the crap out of me.

“Roger, is EOD going to blow it?”

“Yes, they are getting R2D2 up and running now. The robot is going to plant a charge on the burning round and blow it.”

Stepping back into my vehicle, I shut the heavy door behind me and engage my combat lock. Thru the three inch thick armored glass I can see the EOD Robot apply a charge to the burning artillery shell. Picking up the handset, I notify Battalion that there is going to be another controlled blast.

This is definitely starting to be routine.

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