Terror in a Cloud of Dust

(Page 3 of 4)

As the first sergeant approaches the left side of the truck, I can see the fear in his walk. He is hesitant, on guard. When he calls out to the guys inside the hit PLS, it is so quiet that I can make out even the faintest of fuzz on the radio. Then we hear, “We’re OK, first sergeant,” and a simultaneous sigh of relief is heard throughout the convoy.

The first sergeant talks the rattled men out of the truck and onto safe ground, and then walks them to our truck so they can calm down. I am surprised when I see the first sergeant, one of the most emotionless men I’ve ever known, hug the PLS driver.

Soldiers rush through a cloud of dust
Photo: Jeremy T. Lock/Flickr/cc-by-2.0

I am dazed for just a moment, and then something in me kicks into high gear. Call it adrenalin or combat reaction, but it is something I have only felt in the worst of situations.

I can see the quick reaction force from FOB Wilson coming up the road a half mile or so. I watch as the Bradley fighting vehicles sup up in their defensive positions and take over security from us. The back ramps drop down and dismounts set off to check the surrounding buildings for the IED’s trigger man.

Waiting for EOD bomb disposal to arrive, I look down to the seat below me on my right. It’s the driver of the truck that just got hit. He’s sitting as still as a man lying in a casket. All but his hands. They are shaking so violently that he cannot even remove the cap from a water bottle. I nudge him with my foot as if to say, “You’re OK, it’s cool. You’re safe now.”

“You good, bro?” I ask.

When he looks up he cannot speak. He just nods yes, and appears to look right through me. I want to tell him to snap out of it, to put his weapon to his shoulder and pull some security. I don’t know why, but I can’t. I don’t really feel bad for him; it’s a war and shit happens. I’ve had worse days and still did my job. But he is so scared. It is the weirdest feeling I have ever felt: The feeling of compassion, when I need to be as solid as a rock.

Just as I start to self-analyze, two bomb technicians arrive to clear the blast sight. They put on their bomb suits and send out their little remote-controlled mine sweeper, like characters out of the movie “E.T.” The robot sweeps the scene and detects no secondary IED. I am relieved.

The EOD team is putting away their robot and taking off their bomb suits while a ten-ton wrecker backs into position to hook up the bombed truck. EOD starts walking over to check out the vehicle and snap some photos for records. Then out of nowhere, there is a second blast.

This one is bigger, louder. It pushes me against the back of my turret and pins me there for what feels like minutes, but is actually fractions of a second. My first sergeant, who was walking toward the EOD team, is almost knocked over. His knees buckle, and he tries to keep his balance.