'Let’s go, we’re gonna blow an IED'

'Let’s go, we’re gonna blow an IED'
EOD technician SSgt Michael Sickles from Longview, Wash., in his MRAP (Mine Resistant, Ambush Proof) vehicle en route to disarm an IED.

COMBAT OUTPOST TURBETT, Afghanistan - “Let’s go, we’re gonna blow an IED,” said Staff Sargeant Michael Sickles, Fox Company's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician.

Improvised Explosive Devices - known by the shorthand IEDs - are the number one killer of Marines in the Marjah district, according SSgt. Matthew Lentz, EOD Team Leader.

To say that Sickles, who is from Longview, Wash., and Lentz, from Sheridan, Wyo., are busy is a gross understatement.

Whenever an IED is located, they must travel to the area to render the device harmless and gather as much intel on the device as possible. Whenever an IED explodes, they also must respond the scene to gather intel. 

They are on call at all times.

Perhaps as compensation, they have their own room in the compound and can cook their own meals, including a mean dish of chicken Alfredo they shared with us. When we first arrived at COP Turbett, Marines advised us to get to know Lentz and Sickles. “They cook pancakes almost every morning,” we were told.

So when Sickles said it was time to go, we geared up in body armor and helmet, climbed into an Mine Resistant Ambush Proof truck and rolled out of the outpost. | Photo Gallery

“We had a call earlier from a civilian convoy,” explained Lentz. “The security element of that convoy came under fire, and they stopped movement. Luckily so, because they happened to stop just before an improvised explosive device.”

Once on scene, Lentz and Sickles walked slowly to the EID, which was marked alongside the road with a red bag. They moved deliberately, sweeping the ground in front of each step with a mine detector.

Once at the IED, they discovered it was booby trapped: A detonator trigger string ran from the bag to the explosive device.

Both men methodically surveyed the entire area, moving down into the wadi, walking up and down the dirt road with their mine detectors.

Kneeling in the dirt, they disarmed the device.

They then “interrogated it, collected evidence from it,” explained Sickles. “That way we could use that stuff later on hopefully to link it to a bomb maker, an IED emplacer, and capture them.”

They unspooled about 100 meters of wire connected to “a command-initiated charge.”

An entire convoy was parked behind us, waiting for the IED to be cleared. Sickles issued a five-minute warning to all units in the area on his radio. At five seconds he gave a loud countdown.

The command detonator looked like a fat green pencil with a thin metal rod sticking out of one end, with a safety pin stuck through the rod. The safety pin was pulled out of the rod, much like pulling the pin on a hand grenade. The rod was forced down and a quarter turn to the right, then pulled vigorously back up.

There was a small pop at the IED, followed by the actual IED explosion.

“It was an approximately 25 pound DFC,” explained Sickles. “DFC is the nickname for a type of IED we have here, it’s a directional fragmentation charge. It’s basically an improvised claymore. They’ll take a metal tube, pack it with explosives, and they’ll pack shrapnel in front of that.” 

The up-armored Marine vehicles are not vulnerable to the DFCs, but the devices can be deadly to foot patrols - and the shrapnel will go through the body of a civilian car like the locals use.

With he IED detonated and the road cleared, the convoy was able to continue to its destination. SSgts. Lentz and Sickles returned to COP Turbett to catch a nap, cook an extraordinary meal by local standards, and debrief the command.

That night they would make two more missions to IED sites, as they do almost every night.

Dan Morrison and Cali Bagby are embedded with the Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan, north of the Pakistani border, as multimedia journalists for KVAL News.

Morrison teaches photojournalism and multimedia reporting at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in Eugene, Ore.

Bagby is a freelance multimedia journalist who spent 10 months embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq for KVAL.com.