0800 October 2004, Hit, Iraq - The platoon left the J.C.C. early in the morning, proceeding east along a well traveled dirt road outside the wire towards the Euphrates River. We were in a file formation, one on each side of the road, in a standard tactical dispersion. I was on a "familiarization" patrol to learn the ropes and eventually replace their Corpsman as he was being utilized elsewhere in the Battalion.
"Nobody told you Doc? We're out here to look for mines!" he replies with a maniacal look on his face and animated tone in his voice. My stomach about ends up in my throat, my face probably turning white looking like I just saw a ghost!
"How the heck do you do that? I honestly question him back.
"You just look for anything out of the ordinary and stay in the steps of the guy in front of you Doc," Sarge confidently answers as the other Marines echo almost in unison back to me with just as fearless of a look on their faces.
Now I may be dumb but I'm not stupid! But, then again, I know nothing about finding land mines out in the monotone deserts of Iraq! I've never even seen a land mine except for what most of us picture one to look like from the books we've read and television programs we may have watched! Doesn't EOD take care of situations like these? Aren't they the ones that are trained in these things and don't they have those high speed detectors at their disposal? My level of anxiety jumped to another level after hearing this news!
I later find out that this patrol was put together in response to an incident where a Humvee drove over a vehicle mine near the same firing range. A Marine officer, who was walking behind the Humvee, was injured after taking shrapnel from the explosion. The vehicle caught fire and burned to the ground leaving the charred chassis laying in the dirt.
The walk down to the range was uneventful ending conveniently next to the burnt remains of the Humvee. We turned right, up and over a small dirt burm that separated the dirt road from the range.
Looking down at the boot prints in front of me, about to place my left foot into the fresh print just stamped in the dirt, over what looked like one of those pop-up sprinkler heads, I stop and kneel down to verify my find. A half moon portion of tan plastic is uncovered by the wind swept sand. I stand up, look around for the nearest water source, pause for a second and then remind myself that I'm in the middle of an Iraqi desert! A surge of adrenaline overwhelmes my senses, the hair on the back of my neck standing straight up! Holding up a closed fist, I bring the patrol to a stop.
"What'd ya find Doc?" the Marine behind me yells out.
I shrug my shoulders and continue to look at the ground below while two Marines merge in on my position.
"I think you found a mine Doc!" the Marine exclaims as he gently uncovers the rest of the "sprinkler head" and probes the dirt with his K-Bar while kneeling on one knee.
Without a word and remaining in the boot prints ahead of me I cautiously, yet hastily egress away from the immediate area until I feel I am safe!
"Okay, you guys can play with that thing as much as you want now," I shout to them from about two hundred meters away. Either those guys know what their doing or it's their curiosity that's keeping them there! Either way, it's better them than me!
After excavating around the mine, exposing it and posing for pictures, including myself (I guess that makes me the hypocrite now), EOD is contacted. After about a two hour wait EOD arrives with their high tech equipment, sweep the area for any additional mines (none found), disassemble the mine and detonate the explosive charge without incident.
On my walk back to the FOB I meet up with the 1st Sergeant of the EOD team again:
"Hey Doc, a mine is a beautiful thing to waste," he chuckles with a smile on his face. I shake my head and wave back in acknowledgement.
"Sick bastard," I think to myself, continuing my walk to the BAS.