LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Maybe the Afghan kids shouting in the distance were telling the soldiers to get out of their neighborhood.
Perhaps they were trying to warn the troops not to make that right turn.
Or maybe they were signaling the triggerman around the corner to blow up some Americans on Nov. 24, a cold and damp Tuesday afternoon.
But just as the men of 1st Platoon turned onto yet another muddy path, a bomb buried near an orchard gate detonated next to Spc. Burch Swigert.
The blast shook the platoon ahead of Swigert’s position. An Afghan soldier swung his rocket-propelled grenade launcher around to fire before the Americans shouted him down.
The platoon ran back toward the boom, only to freeze as screaming Afghan soldiers pointed out a second, unexploded shell where the bomb went off. To add to the tension, the unit was in a dead zone. Their radios could not reach help at Combat Outpost Charkh and the rest of Company B, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment.
Amid the shouting, there he sat. Swigert was having a cigarette against that same orchard wall, shaken, but with everything intact.
"I love you, Swigert!" a soldier yelled as the lucky specialist got to his feet and moved down the path away from the blast site.
The bomb was made of 82 mm and 60 mm mortar shells. The larger shell blew up right next to Swigert as he walked by. But the 60 mm did not.
Despite its fearsome noise, the blast didn’t even knock the Helena, Mont., native off his feet.
"I was walking in front of the gate," Swigert said. "I heard a click and it went boom. First I thought my leg was gone, then I was like, ‘I’m still here.’
"If I didn’t know better, I’d say angels were watching over me."
The wiring of the bomb wasn’t very good, and the shell that did detonate was full of gunpowder and not its original explosives. Soldiers theorized that maybe the triggerman wanted to save those valuable explosives, or maybe he wanted to get paid to blow the bomb without hurting anyone.
Maybe it was all luck.
"Don’t tell me there isn’t a God, with some of the things these soldiers have seen, and Swigert wasn’t killed," platoon leader 1st Lt. Kevin Cory said of the near-miss.
The triggerman had been able to see the blast point via a hole in the orchard’s opposite wall. He had no doubt watched many pairs of legs pass by before Swigert came along.
"If it would’ve went off right, it would’ve been a louder explosion," Spc. Jesse Rinier said after climbing a nearby hill in order to catch a signal and communicate with the base. "If it was the full thing, Swigert would’ve been dead."
Despite the head-scratching joy that accompanied Swigert’s escape, the half-baked contraption might signal an ominous development: Until this point, the frequent enemy engagements involved rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. No roadside bombs.
"I’m surprised it took them this long to actually do it," Cory said.
Right before the blast, Swigert said he was thinking about how he has only a month left, and of a squad leader who had been injured and evacuated, and how he couldn’t see over this orchard wall.
Now, Swigert just wants to get home and make some babies.
"It sure puts your life in perspective, what you’ve had and what you’re missing," he said. "I’ll put up with screaming kids and dirty diapers over IEDs any day."