The Day I Found 3 IEDs
It was an unusually slow Thursday, so I decided to go for a run instead of lunch. I usually let my guys take a longer lunch if they PT instead of eat, and I try to do so myself whenever I can break away.
So here I am, just into what I guess is the front end of the second mile, when I turn off of the asphalt road onto a dirt track leading into a date palm grove. Palm trees are one of my favorite types of trees, but I haven’t run this route before. The grove is located just outside of the gate adjacent to The Hill, but in the secure area between my base and Camp Victory.
I am running along thinking that I am really enjoying this run… it’s pretty quiet here, except for the birds I scare as I go by.… I think I’ll run here again tomorroHOLY CRAP! WHAT IS THAT? I freeze, thinking that what I see can’t really be what I think it is. Incredulous, I edge forward slightly, and lying next to the base of a palm tree just off the road is an old, Army-green, 105mm artillery shell. Oh fuck, I think, as I notice that it’s fused. Oh fuck again, it’s got some type of plastic box taped to it fuck fuck fuck!!! What to do? – I gotta get out of here. I am backing away slowly, looking around for any trip wires or pressure devices. Shit, what was it they said to do in this situation? God dammit.
All of sudden the glue in my brain unsticks itself and my mind is racing a mile a minute. They got in. I can’t believe they could actually set this up in here. I gotta tell somebody about this. They aren’t supposed to be in here. I can’t believe they got in. I back up far enough to where I think it’s safe to turn my back on the thing and I take off running as fast as I can. I feel like I am charging for first base at Heilmann little league, running so fast that your lungs will explode, but you don’t get too many hits so you have to take advantage of the opportunity to make base when you can… praying that I my foot touches that dusty canvas bag before the baseball gets there… well… before this thing explodes. My feet are chugging like pistons and my lungs are bursting, but I am exuberant. Keep going, turn the corner here, turn… God it feels good to be alive in this dusty hell-hole of a country. Slow down. Where in the hell am I? Oh yeah, where am I? Oh hell, I am lost. I can’t even see The Hill from here. How come I just hafta be alone when this happens? I think that there are very few times when I have wished for Lisanne to be here in Iraq with me, but this is one of them. She wouldn’t be lost.
Actually, I do have a general idea of where I am and if I can just zig-zag this way, ah… that’s it. I should be able to see The Hill from that road up ahead. Jeez, I bet this brush hasn’t been cut since before the war… As I jog closer the area seems slightly familiar, yes, yes… Oh shit! It’s Sniper’s Alley. Well, I am not in the mood for taking any more chances and quickly decide that I am not running alone down Sniper’s Alley. So I turn back around, making sure my route of retreat does not provide a direct line of sight to any potential Muj who might be watching from the nearby apartments. I am quite sure that if I skirt the alley to the left I will eventually come across a dirt road where the ammo dump used to be, and I think that road will take me to Razorback. Well, maybe not quite sure, but somewhat sure. And anyway, going back the way I came is not an option.
I start jogging again, find the road more or less where I’d hoped it would be, and take the left toward Razorback. Up ahead are a couple of burnt out buildings that I’ve run past before, yes, this is the way. I remember that I’d stopped before to peer into these buildings once and that they appeared to be some type of large work sheds or garages, with… what’s that? There’s a rocket propelled grenade on the side of the road, sticking out of a pipe propped on top of several rocks. Russian RPGs are basically small, hand-held missiles, but his one had been set up to fire remotely, with wires trailing out of the back of the pipe. This is too freaking weird! I speed up to a sprint again, although the havoc an RPG could cause seems almost puny when compared to the artillery shell. Why are they putting these things here? Why not on the main roads? What the F---?? Oh, shit, this is TOO weird. Ten feet away I see a black walkie talkie buried on the side of the road with only the top and its antenna sticking out. I notice that there is a trail of dirt from the walkie talkie leading to what looks like a hole in the center of the road that has been filled in. Too late to turn around, I jump over it and pick up my pace again. I just want to get out of here.
By now I am really suspicious. Placing several IEDs in a single ambush is a common tactic, but they are usually of the same type. And mounting this many separate attacks so close together, on what are really very rarely used roads, doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. Well, maybe that’s the point… the roads are so rarely used that no one would expect it. Or maybe it was just easier to set them up in a less traveled area. Ahead is Razorback, so I slow down - at least Razorback is well traveled, and I can find someone to give me a ride back. Ah, there’s the road that leads to the PX. I knew I’d find my way….
There is a small sheet of paper tacked to a palm tree as I step back out onto the paved road. The Muj often leave notes or signs telling others that an area is dangerous. Of course, most Americans are oblivious. I go over to take a look and this is what it says, in black, 12 pitch font:
“IED Lane training area.
Do not remove this sign.”
Later that evening, after I had related my adventures to the quorum of officers that I was sharing my dinner with, they suggested that we go back and take photos. I told them to feel free, but I was going to find some other Palm grove.