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RAMADI, Iraq — The night was off to a quick start for Pfc. Michael Colegrove.

Just half an hour after his platoon rolled out the front gates of Camp Ramadi and crept into the dark, deserted streets of Ramadi, the 22-year-old La Plata, Mo., native already was digging out and disarming his first roadside bomb of the evening.

Peering through the thick ballistic glass of a shrapnel-pocked Buffalo mine-clearing truck, Colegrove used an arcade-style controller to manipulate the Buffalo’s long, hydraulic arm. As fellow soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Company B, 54th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade looked on, Colegrove used a claw at the end of the arm to expose a 115 mm artillery shell hidden beneath a heap of trash.

In a few short moments, the arm operator had deactivated the bomb.

On this particular evening — the night after Christmas — team members found themselves picking up one improvised bomb after another. Yet it wasn’t until three hours into the run, when Pfc. Theodore Drewlo drove up to the fifth roadside bomb of the night, that things took a different turn.

Not far from the city’s athletic stadium, an area where insurgents repeatedly stash weapons, Colegrove extended the Buffalo’s arm to examine another shell. The shell suddenly exploded with a loud, flat bang.

The blast destroyed the mechanical claw, enveloped the Buffalo in a cloud of filthy smoke and dust and rained rocks and debris on the cab.

Worry shot through the convoy of spotter and security vehicles. Inside the Buffalo’s cab, all was dark. Nothing appeared to move.

“Give me green chem lights, give me green chem lights,” Staff Sgt. Robert Bowling shouted into the radio. Bowling, who was riding in a vehicle directly behind the Buffalo, yelled again, telling the Buffalo crewmembers to signal him if they were OK.

After an anxious silence, the voice of Lt. David Derochik, 25, of Barkhamsted, Conn., crackled over the radio.

“We’re OK. Everybody’s fine,” he said.

After handling more than a score of roadside bombs with the Buffalo’s mechanical arm, it wasn’t until now that Colegrove had one explode on him. After returning to Camp Ramadi for the evening, the crew clambered out of the Buffalo and inspected the damage. Other than the shattered claw and a broken headlight, it was fine.

Spc. Jessie Venable, a medic who had been riding with Bowling, walked up to Colegrove and asked him the question that many in the convoy wanted to ask.

“So, did that scare the crap out of you?” the 25-year-old Winston-Salem, N.C., native asked with a grin.

“No, it just surprised me,” Colegrove responded. “It wasn’t a very big one.”

Drewlo, 24, of Duluth, Minn., said that, more than anything else, the episode had increased his confidence in the hardiness of the Buffalo’s armor. “It didn’t even rock us,” he said.


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