*Retold with permission
My soldiers and I were attached to an Army EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] team during one operation while Marines swept a small town for any insurgents. While we traveled with them, EOD would float within the secured perimeter and disable any IEDs the Marines found or suspected as they cleared the buildings and streets. I don’t think they were expecting to find too much on their own, though.
We walked up to a dump truck and started to poke around, and then I heard one of the EOD guys call out to another. “Um, I just found five Italian 750s [artillery rounds].” A moment later, I heard him call out again. “Okay, if you’re not EOD, you need to get out of here right now.” I’m thinking if EOD’s getting nervous, it’s definitely time to back up. I headed back to my truck and we moved off a distance to provide them overwatch.
The EOD team started focusing their search on the dump truck, and before long they radioed up to the Marine commander, explained that they’d found an enormous VBIED [vehicle borne IED], and that he needed to back up all his Marines a full kilometer from this site. When they did the controlled detonation, EOD warned, it was going to be enormous.
“Absolutely not,” was the reply from the Marine commander. They’d pushed too far to voluntarily give up ground they’d just finished securing. The Marines would be fine if they weren’t that far back. He’d move them back maybe 300. Anything more was a waste. EOD, didn’t like this response.
“Sir, you’ve have heard our recommendation, so we’ve done our part. But you need to know what’s out here.” He rattled off a huge list of ordnance that they’d found in the truck, and continued. “If this VBIED was to drive into the middle of a unit of M1A1 tanks, it would kill every single tank and every single occupant. As it stands, with this much ordnance inside the vehicle, it is the second largest VBIED that’s ever been found in this country. But, we’ve made our recommendation. One kilometer. What you elect to do is your concern.” The radio was silent for a long pause.
Begrudgingly, the commander radioed back that he would compromise and move his Marines back 900 meters. No more. Fair enough, said the EOD guys.
We helped EOD set up for the detonation, and we ended up rolling out a good 750 meter of det cord [detonation cord used to ignite C4]. As they were working, I looked over and saw that a house near the blast site had a rickety little stable with two donkeys in it. I also knew they wouldn’t survive the blast, so I asked EOD if I could set them loose and give them a chance. In terms of public image, it looks bad to not even try. No, they said, we don’t have time. I walked back to the truck to sulk.
When it came time to detonate, we all pushed into a narrow alley with high mud walls on either side. I asked if I could hold my camera around the corner at the end of the street and film the detonation, but the EOD guy tells me hell no. I have to stay down for this one.
“Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole.”
It was like nuclear holocaust. I saw red for a second, and then I watched the mud walls on either side of the street ripple with the concussive wave. When I could see again, I stumbled to my feet and peeked around the corner to see what the blast site looked like. Sure enough, there was a huge mushroom cloud pushing high into the sky.
One of the EOD guys grabs me, yelling. “You idiot! For the next minute and a half, shit’s going to be raining down. Take cover!” I got back down just as we started to hear little “tinks” all around us, and then the occasional “thud” as a larger piece of debris hit the dirt.
When it was finished, EOD went over to do a post-blast analysis of the scene. They’d wired the one dump truck (which was FULL of rounds), and left a similarly-rigged car nearby alone. They figured the main blast would take it out too. And they were right.
The crater was a good 50 feet deep, more than 100 feet wide, and still smoldering. The car was completely gone, and so was the dump truck. The largest piece I could find was the transmission differential and half a tire. Everything else was too small to even pick up. Even a nearby warehouse was completely flattened, as were several small buildings around the perimeter.
We showed the blast site to the Marine commander, and he was pretty apologetic. “You’re right that this would have killed a platoon of tanks. Next time, I’ll listen to your recommendations.” As he rode off, I looked over towards the donkey stable. I assumed it was flattened, too.
To my utter amazement, the building was mostly intact. A second later, I see a donkey head slowly appear where the door used to be. Then another. One cranes its neck out into the street and nervously looks both ways. As I watch, they slowly emerge, briefly look at us, and walk off into the city. Somehow, they’d survived. I doubt we’d have been so lucky.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved