Mideast edition, Wednesday, July 25, 2007
FORWARD OPERATING BASE Q-WEST, Iraq
Every night and day in Iraq, U.S. military patrols venture out to find and eliminate roadside bombs.
It’s a murky world largely carried out in darkness for soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Unit, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq’s north. Imagine trying to find a needle in a haystack, only with the world’s most up-to-date technology.
“Recently, within a two-week period, we got hit three times,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Donegan, 34, of Syracuse, N.Y., during a July 17 patrol. Luckily, the explosions didn’t kill anyone, but they did cause damage to the battery’s equipment, such as their Humvees.
Two members of the battalion were killed by a roadside bomb just a little more than a month ago — the first two deaths for the unit.
Those deaths set off alarm bells, loud and clear throughout the battalion.
In its area of operation, which includes an infamous highway running the length of the country from north to south known for insurgent and roadside bomb activity, there is a curfew of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Troops have the authorization to stop all vehicles on the road during those hours.
But this does little to deter would-be bomb planters.
On Wednesday, a sniper from Battery A killed one bomb planter and arrested two others caught in the act. The battery member who killed the Iraqi man had been waiting for hours — set up in a position only a few feet from where the perpetrators had pulled their car over to begin the clandestine dig to plant the bombs.
According to the battalion’s operations officer, Maj. George Johnson, 39, from Desoto, Mo., materials recovered from the trunk of the vehicle included a shovel, pick, homemade explosive materials, copper wire and a motorcycle battery, which are commonly used as the power feed to such improvised devices.
On Sunday, another sniper from Battery A caught three more Iraqi men red-handed and shot them dead, bringing to four the count the unit had killed in the last week alone. On Saturday, soldiers picked up an Iraqi policeman wanted as a suspected bomb planter. He is currently being held at the interrogation and detention facility for the battalion’s brigade headquarters in Mosul.
“You never know what you’re going to get into,” said Staff Sgt. Charles Shuck, 28, of Lanceford, Pa., while sweeping a crater being repaired on the notorious north-south highway. The spot had been where a donkey reportedly set off a roadside bomb accidentally, leaving a 6-foot-deep and 25-foot-long hole in the northbound portion of the highway.
Shuck is a military dog handler, and with his specialized search dog, Gabe, goes out routinely to find the needles in the haystack.
Gabe has found 25 bombs so far, Shuck said — “That equates to living people.”