Friday, October 5, 2007

Pucker Factor, Trust, and A Fast Run

Many of the roads in Iraq are old, cracked, and pot-holed. Same with the bridges. In our area this was a result of a combination of old explosives blasts and poor maintenance & repair. If you were out on the road for any amount of time, it got to the point where you developed a great interest in anything out of the ordinary road-wise. Consequently, when I got back to the land of the great PX, I HATED potholes and bridges (too many options for the bad guys to hide stuff). Hell, I saw a wire alongside of the highway and damn near flipped my car!

Anyways, I'm better now, at least that is what the voices tell me!

Driving in and out of the villages one day, Eagle Eye (and no, his last name was not Cherry) called a possible IED. As I was not currently flying through the air, and no other vehicle seemed to be having a Very Bad Day, that usually indicated that he had spotted another one, pre-detonation. This guy was good. Somehow, sitting in the back left seat of a Hummer he was able to talk some shit, man the radio, and spot an IED on the RIGHT side of the bridge!

As my vehicle was just south of the bridge, I deployed the vehicles and Marines in that area, the other Sgt. took the north. I grabbed Mouth, and instructed him to climb to the top of the hill overlooking the road to provide over watch. My orders were, 'when in doubt, interrogate by fire'. The road had been completely blocked off from traffic and people, so anybody in the immediate vicinity besides ourselves was not going to be girl scouts selling cookies or anything. As it was going to be my ass he was covering, I wanted to make sure that he knew that if he felt the slightest inkling that he might need to take the shot, he had my full, unconditional, I'll be your shower-buddy later, support.

From a ways away, I got on the horn with Eagle Eye, and attempted to locate the IED. Couldn't see it. Got some binos...Nada. As I had issued out ACOGs to just about everyone but me and the doc, I moved forward a little bit, borrowed a rifle...same thing, nothing. He described it pretty good, but as his vehicle was now north of the bridge, and the bridge was temporarily out of order, he had to describe it from memory. I was starting to think that this might be a false alarm... I told him to stay on the radio, grab some binos, and talk me onto where he thought he saw the IED.

I really hated to call EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal, or the guys who actually get paid to 'blow shit up') for a false alarm, as I knew that it involved rousting a QRF (Quick Reaction Force, or the guys who besides being on call for 'Oh Shit!' situations, provide security for the EOD team) that just got bedded down. It also involved avoiding some good-natured ribbing, but more importantly, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't the reason that QRF took longer to get somewhere they were actually needed just because I mistook a pillow for a boom-boom.

After checking the hill to make sure that Mouth was in position, I advanced a little closer. Eagle Eye advised me that I was somewhat less gifted than Stephen Hawking, for getting too close. I advised him that today was the day he might have struck out. Never-the-less, I moved to the right side of the road to get a different angle. Still nothing.

The road itself was on a short berm, about 3 or 4 ft high. The shoulders of the road were dirt, and gradually sloped down to the fence-line of some houses. I got up to the piled-rock fence, scanned the shoulders all the way to the bridge and My spidey-senses were not even twitching, so I got a little bit closer. I was almost to the bridge, and the stream that ran beneath it, when a number of things happened all at once.

All vehicular traffic had been stopped for about 30 minutes by now, and the lines of trucks and cars were starting to back up. A white pick-up with two males approached the area from the north, saw the lines, and decided to take some back roads to avoid the traffic. Before this, the Sgt. north of the bridge had committed a slightly tactical error. When he directed his vehicle to pull off to the left side of the road, it was because it was in a good position. Good fields of fire, a little bit of cover, over all a good choice for employment. When he sent out his dismounts though, he placed them on the right side of the road, in a likewise decent position. The problem was actually the relationship between the vehicle mounted machine-gun and the dismounts, with the road in between.

The pick-up returned to the road, and bypassed the last of the waiting vehicles. Apparently without noticing the numerous Marines armed to the teeth, they continued towards the bridge. The Marines on the bridge were unable to open fire because there were now too many civilians directly behind the pick-up. The Hummer wasn't able to fire because now the truck was directly between the Hummer and the dismounted Marines, who were by that time doing a fairly decent impression of Superman, flying through the air, if only for the short trip to the ditch. They were unable to exit the lane of fire though, before the pick-up was on the bridge.

Meanwhile, I was stumped. I had finished checking out the shoulders and was walking back to my Hummer. I was already planning out the shit-talking I would give Eagle Eye for getting my heart rate up when I happened to glance down. About 6 inches in front of my boot was a little bit of thin, blue and white twirled wire. I must have uncovered it upon my approach. You could just make out the wire as it traveled to the fence and disappeared through a crack near the bottom. Following the trail of the wire to the road, I discovered that I was in the perfect position, the only position really, to see that it traveled up the shoulder, and ended up wired up to the nose cone of a HUGE. FRIGGIN'. ARTY. ROUND. that just barely peeked out from where it had been hidden.

This was professional work. Nothing is Murphy proof, but this was a great job at Murphy-resistant. Fuck-nuts had broken up the road, dug the hole, placed the round, and then like a puzzle arranged the road top back on top of the IED. All you could see was about 3 inches of the top of the round, hidden amongst some rocks and brush. Really, really 'good' job.

It was also at this time that the pick-up was speeding across the bridge. Mouth politely inquired as to the reason why the gents felt that they couldn't stop at the road-block and requested that they stop their vehicle with his USMC issued M-16 universal translator. He never had that much in the way of Arabic classes, but he got his point across quite nicely. They decided it might be a good idea to stop. Of course, it took longer for me to type the words on the screen here that it actually did for me to go from mph 0 to BALLSTOTHEWALL, answering in my own way Eagle Eye's constant questions over the radio of, 'see anything yet?'.

Guess what my motivational war cry was while running? Not that you would have heard it, because I think I actually broke the sound barrier in my run for cover. Not a retreat, mind you, more of a tactical attack to a position of better cover. Or something.

EOD was requested most ricky-tick.

When they got there, the IED was disabled and moved to a safer local for detonation. When they pulled that fucker from the ground, it looked about as long as my leg. Of course, I was watching all this far away, through binos, and behind both Hummers, their expertise be damned.

It had been prepped and ready to go.

We never did find the guy who left this particular forget-me-not.


Chris in SE TX said...

Hell of a story, Murph....

Keep posting. I check your blog daily, and I'm very happy to say, you usually come through with a new (and great) post!

OK Katrina said...

Great story! But I've got to say, the IED part freaked me out a bit. (I have two young friends, ages 22 & 21, who leave for Iraq in January. OK Army National Guard, Infantry) But then you reminded me, you guys are good at your jobs.

Murphy said...

The 'Nasty Guard'. We give them grief (really, who do we not?), and I was rolling, tears in my eyes, when I saw a video of some army dudes making fun of Marines at what suspiciously looked like Ft. Polk. *shudder*

It's all in good fun, and when in country, we would all drop everything to help one another out.

One thing about the Reserves & Guard that I really like. As 'weekend warriors', (kind of a loooong weekend, nowadays) they have access to all kinds of guys with skills. Electricians, carpenters, cops, emts, math super-nerds, the list goes on and on. You would be surprised with the amount of benefit that would go with having that great a resource at hand.

I'm sure that they are excellent at their job(s), and will be just fine.

OK Katrina said...

Oh, I have no doubt that the Guard members are given no small amount of grief but when the s**t hits the fan all that goes out the window.

The older one is a paper pusher, though he was on patrol in New Orleans after the Hurricane. J, 21 in 7 days, is a 50 cal gunner on a HumVee. He survived a year in Afghanistan but not because the enemy didn't try really, really hard to kill him. He keeps telling me that he's good at his job, I believe him.

Thanks for the encouraging words.

Karla (threadbndr) said...

RE potholes and bridges

The Marine!Goth took a while before that 'scanning' was.... less obvious, I don't think it's stopped. That's OK. I don't want him to stop. Once he told me what he was looking for, *I* started doing it. Scary how vulnerable we all really are.