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Christmas on the front line

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Philip Harwood
  • 6th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal
The day after Christmas, my team woke up at 5 a.m. after unloading supplies from HUMVEES Christmas evening. Just the standard things you would expect to get on Christmas day, concertina wire, empty barriers, MREs and a few personal letters.

My team had been embedded with the Army and was told we were going to stand up a new combat out post. Since no planned Explosive Ordnance Disposal missions where going on we offered to help setup the HESCOS.

Our current perimeter was nothing more than a strand of c-wire stretching between four HUMVEES in a square. We did that until about 1:30 p.m. when an improvised explosive device went off in the distance. The scouts on top of a mountain said it looked like some sheep had set it off along a road. The officer in charge wanted us to go out and do a post blast assessment on it and then continue to push out with the patrol, eventually making our way back to the combat out post.

We started our dismounted patrol around 2 p.m. and eventually came to where the IED had gone off. We collected the intel we needed and continued on with the patrol. They were looking for a building they could climb up on to have a decent over watch position of the nearest city. After walking through flooded farm fields and going over countless 6-foot to 10-foot high mud walls carrying a robot and all of our tools, we finally reached their objective.

The point man started clearing a path into the compound followed by three or four other infantrymen, as well as five Afghan national policemen and an interpreter. By the time my team made it to the compound something didn't feel right with us. We went into the open courtyard and made it to a cement porch.

The Army sergeant yelled for some of his guys to climb up on a wall and get on the roof as we were taking our rucks off. The next thing I know, an IED went off. I ducked behind a pillar and couldn't hear anything, just a very loud ringing. Immediately after the blast, I made sure my teammates were ok then screamed at the infantrymen who started to run toward their downed teammates, "NO ONE MOVE!" I then had to yell at the interpreter to control the ANP guys who had no idea what to do in this situation.

Everyone was screaming and you couldn't hear anything, so I yelled again for them to all to be quiet so we could find out what needed to be done. My team leader grabbed a metal detector and started to clear a path toward the closest guy who was injured. We could hear screaming coming from the other side of the wall and could see there were three guys on our side of the wall who where hurt.

The guy closest to us, about five feet away, no longer had his right foot and was bleeding from every appendage. He had stepped on an anti-personnel landmine. Looking down the path, another private seemed to be ok. Then we saw a huge hole in the ground where the main charge went off, 10 feet away from my team. The third man was laying face down on the other side of the crater. You could hear screaming on the other side of the wall saying an individual was over there and he was in bad shape as a medevac request was being sent.

My team leader had already cleared a path and sent the first guy back to the concrete pad where I was. His arm was hurting and we saw some holes in his right sleeve so we cut off his sleeve and patched up some small wounds. In the meantime, my other team member was helping a medic perform combat lifesaving on the individual who had lost his foot. I grabbed another metal detector and started sweeping a wider path so we could carry him out to the medevac.

I had cleared a path out to the blast seat when my team leader's metal detector went dead. I gave him mine and started to help carry the wounded out of the compound. Immediately outside the compound was a pomegranate orchard where we set up a casualty collection point.

As the Blackhawk was hovering seven feet overhead, the pilot said he could lift out the first individual, but could not land due to the trees. He said there was an open field about 300 meters away he would be able to land in if we could get the wounded there. It was dusk as we made our way to the spot the pilot had said, but there was another eight-foot mud wall blocking our way to the field. We put several blocks of C4 together, put it up against the wall, called the pilot to make sure he was clear and then blew the charge. As we approached where we placed the charge, all we could see was dust.

All I could think about in my head was "please be big enough to get people throug." As the dust started to settle we saw the charge had made a perfect doorway in the middle of the wall. After we got all the wounded loaded up on the bird, we gathered up all of our equipment and walked the eight miles back to the COP.

When we got to the COP, the field medic gave my team a test for a concussion. We all failed, but chose to stay at the COP doing missions for the remaining three days we were assigned to them. We took some Motrin and went to sleep listening to the Christmas bells ringing in our ears.