After six hours on the road, Afghan National Army soldiers wave down the convoy and tell them about what they believe is a bomb in an abandoned building near the roadside. Staff Sgt. William Cook, a from Waynesville, Missouri — goes to work. Cook is the unit’s BIP or “Blow It in Place” guy. He has six-weeks of extra training in identifying explosive threats and destroying them. While 26-years old, with two deployments to Iraq and this one to Afghanistan, Cook still looks like a high school sophomore—but his formidable skills and knowledge have made him a Company standout. He pulls a $100,000 lawnmower-sized robot, called a Talon, from the back of one of the vehicles, and opens up his hardcase controller behind a mud wall near the house and sends the robot in. Looking at his viewing screen he sees what the robot’s camera has locked onto.
“Yep, it’s a pressure pate IED with one yellow jug and a PMN mine.”
Once he gets approval from Battalion and the unit in charge of this particular “battlespace.” Cook plans on sending the robot back in with a few bricks of C4 plastic explosives—and blowing the bomb in place as he says he’s done 50 or 60 times already. But before he gets his chance—and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit) the same as feature in the Academy Awarding Winning film, “The Hurt Locker,”
arrive at the site.
Since the bomb is in a building, protocol is that they will take over the detonation duties—the same way the FBI might take over a criminal investigation from local law enforcement. Cook is not happy—but draws them a picture of the site and hands it over to them.
They accept it wordlessly and move on to their task—while 1st Platoon is told to clear the area—before potentially drawing Taliban fire by being in one place too long.
While it’s hard for Cook and the unit to give up the “BIP,” Gillespie puts it in perspective, “it doen’t matter who blows it as long as it’s gone—and that means an ANA (Afghan National Army) guy doesn’t have to die finding it (the wrong way).”
The unit continues the mission—when a few hours later, another IED is found lying on a culvert by the side of the road. Cook deploys the Talon again—and this time, since there are no building involved, he’s able to get the BIP and destroys the bomb without the “help” of the EOD.
It’s dark by the time the convoy starts heading back to FOB Ramrod, but along the way, Sgt. Dustin Russell who operates the Buffalo’s hydraulic arm, spots a blanket which clearly looks like it’s wrapped around a human body. There is even what looks like a blood-stain, over the area of the head. The driver, Pfc, Brent Hensley stops the vehicle and Russell maneuvers the arm over the blanket.
Bathed in a red interior light, he watches the monitor in front of him, deftly moving the arm into place, spearing the outside edge of the blanket and pulling it upward. As it rises, it slowly unfolds. Everyone watchs as the final fold falls, revealing—nothing. It’s empty. Russell drops it in place and the convoy heads back to base.
When it finally reaches FOB Ramrod it’s 14 hours since they first left the wire — and the odometer reading tells them that in all that time they’ve travelled a total distance of just 23 miles
It’s fact which undescores both the massive effort and cost to secure even a small portion of Afghanistan’s roadways each day, but also, at least for now, the commitment to do so.