82nd engineers keep 'Blue Babe Highway' in Iraq safe from IEDs
August 10, 2004
BAQOUBA, Iraq — If the 82nd Engineer Battalion soldiers are lucky, the hunt for roadside bombs can be the most boring four hours of their lives.
On Saturday, they were lucky.
The battalion’s soldiers are on the road 24 hours a day in four-hour shifts, scouring “Blue Babe Highway” for the nasty homemade bombs known to soldiers as improvised explosive devices (IED). The highway is a vital convoy route from Forward Operating Base Gabe to its resupply point at Forward Operating Base Warhorse.
The patrol involves driving back and forth along the highway, which had little traffic on Saturday, and occasionally parking to watch things.
On one of these “breaks,” soldiers in the lead vehicle passed the time by telling war stories.
“We saw one IED that was made out of a 55-gallon barrel with a sign on top of it,” said Sgt. Joshua Staderman, of Company C, out of Bamberg, Germany. As gunner, he sits on a 2-inch-wide strap, resembling a swing.
His head and shoulders poke out of the roof so he can man the gun that sits atop the vehicle.
“It blew when we got close to it, and a piece of shrapnel came in at the bottom of the rear passenger door (under the vehicle’s armor), shot across the Humvee and cut a chunk out of the driver’s calf.”
Sgt. Michael Davis, the vehicle commander, has been luckier. He hasn’t been hit by an IED, but had a close call with a rocket-propelled grenade, he said.
The driver, Pfc. Sergio Sanchez, is a tank driver from 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, out of Vilseck, Germany. He is attached to Company C.
“Insurgents learned a long time ago that IEDs don’t do anything to our tanks,” Sanchez said. “They don’t even try anymore.”
Three vehicles back, the fourth and last in the convoy, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patterson, the 3rd Platoon sergeant, is testing the theory that lightning — in the form of roadside bombs — won’t strike the same vehicle twice.
On Thursday, Patterson’s vehicle was hit by a bomb while he was on one of these patrols. The heat of the blast melted the ballistic window and pushed it inward. It didn’t break, however. The blast also sent jagged pieces of metal into the tires, flattening both on the passenger side, and into the air conditioner, damaging it beyond repair.
The blast also sprayed minute pieces of shrapnel that struck the gunner, who had minor injuries to his face and returned to duty the next day, Patterson said.
Patterson’s vehicle was towed back to FOB Gabe.
The one-month-old Humvee was repaired overnight, except for the air conditioning, and put back on the road.
“We went right back out the next day,” Patterson said, about 30 minutes before the patrol went out Saturday. “We’ve learned to put a lot of faith in the up-armored Humvees.”
“The IED was in a hole that was still there from another explosion,” Patterson said. “We see that a lot. What we really look for out there is holes in the road where bombs can be hidden, or any kind of wire in the road.”
As the patrol begins to roll again, the only sound is the loud engine of the Humvee. The windows are closed to keep shrapnel out; the heat is stifling.
Sanchez and Davis scan the road to the front and their respective sides.
Staderman scans the perimeter to the front and both sides. The hum of the engine seems to melt away and the silence becomes almost maddening. Every vehicle is suspect, as is every mound of dirt on the road’s shoulder. At any moment, the silence could give way to the next explosion.
It would seem these bomb hunters would be as skittish as wild cats. But their nerve has steeled over the past five months.
“We aren’t jumpy anymore,” Staderman said. “We were jumpy as hell when we first got here. Not anymore.”