Another Post From My Son

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(Ed. Note: My son sent me this commentary on an article he read in USA Today. It gives a soldier's eye view of the article. Regular readers know he is in the Army Reserve and has completed two tours of duty in Iraq.)

Greetings, fellow crab fans. I have returned to give you all a piece of my mind about a subject very near to my heart.

First, an apology.  I've been conspicuously absent from this site for some time now, due to a combination of personal shakeups in my life and a budding career. I won't promise to do better, because I'm not sure I can, but when something catches my eye I'll do my best to let you know about it.

I passed a newspaper dispenser today and found an article on the front page that I could not ignore. I dug three quarters out of my pocket and started reading. When I got home I managed to find it online as well and below is the link for your discretionary perusal.

The article is entitled, "Commanders pushed to make bomb disposal choices." In summary, it describes  a situation most people probably don't even know exists: the issue of whether to dismantle and examine or simply destroy IEDs in Iraq. First, allow me outline for you how this has worked in the past. Engineers in "sweep teams" patrol the roads of Iraq at a low speed, attempting to spot IEDs before the convoys behind them run into them. Upon finding and IED, the engineers call in the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) teams to dismantle
and/or destroy the IEDs (I apologize for the acronym overload).

Seems like a good system, until you take into account the fact that it can take anywhere from a half hour to several hours for EOD to show up on the scene. Once they do arrive, it can take several more hours for them to take the IED apart and clear the route for travel. This is where the convoys come in.

Road travel in Iraq is strictly regulated. Once a route is made "red," i.e. unable to be traveled upon, no more convoys are allowed to come out of forward operating bases until the status is updated to "amber." Routes go red as soon as an IED is found and reported on that path of travel. For the convoys still in camp, this means an irritating delay. If convoys have already left camp, though, they are stopped behind the sweep teams until the IED is cleared.

Imagine being stuck for hours, unable to let down your guard for fear of being attacked while you're sitting still behind an IED cordon. What if the sweep team missed secondary devices that are now sitting directly outside your doors? What if the IED that stopped traffic is really not an IED at all, but a hoax designed to lure the convoy into an ambush? From personal experience, I can tell you it feels as though a giant, day-glo target has been painted on your truck.

The article in question examines the possible loss of valuable intelligence gained by dismantling IEDs. It even directly likens the work done by EOD to that of the forensic technicians on the television show CSI. I'm not here to tell you anything different. Intelligence is gained, and sometimes it leads the military directly to the bomb-maker and every so often, a huge cache of IEDs and related components. Sometimes.

There are also times when the delays caused by an IED cordon result in an ambush by insurgent attackers, or 60mm mortars being walked in on convoys that have nowhere to go, completely boxed in between the IED and convoys that have come up behind them. I've personally seen as many as nine convoys stuck over a distance of several miles behind a cordon. I've been caught in a mortar attack like the situation I've previously described.
I was blessed never to have been stuck in an ambush, though several of my Fellow soldiers in the company I served in were, on more than one occasion.

There is also a great deal of posturing in the article, describing the "superiority" of EOD techs over engineers and how under-qualified said engineers are to detonate IEDs. Having seen some of their handiwork, I can tell you engineers are quite proficient at blowing things up safely. This argument is elitism, pure and simple; it's the same kind of elitism that flares up when the Army is chosen to take an objective over the Marines. It's the mindset that they are the baddest of the bad, and as such only they should be trusted to deal with the
threat. It's a mindset EOD needs to get over, on the double, for the good of the mission.

Oh, and of the article's statement that engineers have caused unnecessary harm to friendly forces in the past with their ordinance clearing, I'd like to see what EOD's record is, because I guarantee it's not perfect either. War is hell, and sometimes things go very wrong very fast, and the only way to stop that from happening is to stop going to war.

This new order puts commanders in the field in charge of the situation, as it always should have been. If the sweep team commander is sitting on an IED in an area where there is an imminent threat of attack, he or she should have the option of destroying that IED to facilitate movement on the roads without fear of  being reprimanded or removed from duty for making that call.

This is actually a very informative article, but it only really shows one side of the issue, a woefully common occurrence these days. Where is the testimony of the grunts on the ground who are depending on these decisions, which sometimes have dire ramifications? From my point of view, this order finally
sets right a wrong that's been pervasively affecting logistical operations for years.

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5 Responses to Another Post From My Son

  1. Uncle Pinky says:

    That’s quite a lad you’ve got there Gaius. Good to see that analysis and humour are genetic traits. Please give him my best.

  2. Gaius says:

    I’ll do that, Uncle Pinky

  3. John in Dublin CA says:

    Just a quick thank you to your son for his service. He has my deep respect and gratitude. Having lost a family member in the war on terror, I have a personal and profund sense of indebtedness to every man and woman who fights for us. God Bless.

  4. Sylvia says:

    A chip off the old block. As always, our prayers and thanks for your family’s service to our country.

  5. Chris says:

    Allow me to append my thanks as well, and kudos to your family for going above and beyond.

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