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AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — Just before heading out on a convoy, Army Pfc. Daryl “Spider” Marshall, an Army truck driver, had stressed the importance of preparing for a trip — including the threat of insurgent attack.

“Just making sure your basic fuel, oil, water, in the radiator, are so important,” said Marshall, 39, of Pueblo, Colo., who is with the 25th Transportation Company, 787th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

“Because you can’t be running out … always making sure your tires are aired and not too worn for the mission.”

“You don’t want to be in that situation out in the kill zone. You don’t want to have to run out of gas. ... You’re just putting yourself out in the wide open for the enemy. Because in that time, they can do a lot.”

Marshall’s words proved prophetic when, on the ensuing mission several miles from Al Asad Air Base, a large flash of swirling flame appeared suddenly from the left. The flash reached the windshield of a vehicle driven by Spc. Jerel Concepcion, 21, of Portland, Ore., also with the 25th Transportation Company.

First Lt. Richard L. Pope, 35, of Sumter, S.C., a platoon leader and Transportation Corps officer, and a Stars and Stripes reporter were in the cab, too.

Concepcion kept the truck steady, even as the flame danced in midair just inches from his side of the cab. A faint smell of gunpowder or something similar wafted into the cab as he drove past.

Because no explosion was heard or concussion felt, initial speculation was that a flare or other piece of ordnance had accidentally discharged from one of the Abrams tanks the convoy was hauling.

Pope and others later concluded it was probably a roadside bomb that had been improperly set and that malfunctioned when triggered.

“It did the flash but it didn’t detonate. ... Which is probably a good thing with all of us right there,” Pope said the next day. “ ‘Cause it was right on our left front bumper so we were right on it.”

The road the convoy was on at the time “is notorious for past IEDs [improvised explosive devices], this whole road itself is just not a safe road,” he said.

“But then,” he added, “no road in Iraq is safe.”

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