'All of the sudden the Earth opened up and spat us out'
Posted: August 25, 2008, 1:30 AM by Ronald Nurwisah, Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan ó My mother always says I live my life with a noose around my neck and a horseshoe up my ***, but I've never felt both being tugged so hard in different directions as I did Sunday.
I was travelling back to Kandahar Air Field in a supply convoy in the Panjwaii district with eight others, including Canadian Press reporter Tobi Cohen, who was celebrating her 30th birthday, when our vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.
There were six other vehicles in our convoy, but it was our armoured personnel vehicle, which is typically used to transport troops, that was targeted by the Taliban in this strike.
We were coming back from a major operation in the Zhari district of Kandahar, where the Canadian and Afghan forces led a three-day campaign into the centre of the Taliban stronghold, fighting insurgents and confiscating large weapons caches, IED materials, and Taliban communications equipment along the way.
During the mission I was embedded with the Canadian mentor program for the Afghan National Army ó or the OMLT (pronounced omlet), as it's known here, which is short for operational mentor liaison team.
The head of the mentoring program, Maj. Bob Ritchie gave me a bit of advice during the three days I spent embedded with the Canadian Forces and their Afghan counterparts in the field.
"When you're in the army," he said, "you become accustomed to the fact that there are varying degrees of suck. When you think something can't get any worse, you can always find something that sucks more, and you probably will."
After spending three days without a shower, eating only rations, using a plastic bag as a toilet, and living in a mud hut with six other guys and their stinky feet, I thought I'd hit rock bottom and was looking forward to my bed at the base and my desk to write at.
But, like Ritchie warned, things got worse ó a lot worse.
The explosion happened on a particularly nasty stretch of highway near the village of Salawat, about an hour and a half away from the base. There are a series of culverts along this stretch of road that have become a hot spot for IED attacks.
These makeshift explosives have become the bane of the Coalition and Afghan forces across the country and were responsible for the death of three Canadian soldiers just last week. In fact, they have been responsible for nearly half of the 93 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, and numerous other innocents.
They're typically buried in culverts or alongside the road and are ignited either by remote controls or when a vehicle rolls over them. After the initial strike, these supply convoys or patrols are often attacked by mortar rounds or AK-47 fire.
Ours was detonated by remote - the control cable was found after the attack - and I later found out with little surprise that the Taliban had taken credit for the strike.
Still, it made my blood boil, as I'm sure it has for many people back in Canada and here in Afghanistan who have lost their boys and girls, husbands and wives to these vile creations.
This is how it played out. Tobi and I were trying to hitch a ride back to Kandahar Air Field with the Canadian Forces. There had been rumours that we might get a helicopter ride out, which later fell through. But there was a supply convoy that had a couple of extra seats, so we jumped in.
Before we loaded up, I asked the gunner on the roof of the vehicle if he would mind if I kept my laptop, my notes, and the satellite I use for Internet access outside the wire with me.
I was more worried about it falling off the top of the vehicle, than anything else, but he assured me it would be safe up there with other guy's bags.
It's standard for anyone going out in these convoys to wear a flak vest, a helmet, ballistic glasses, long sleeves, pants and fire retardant gloves. Ear plugs are also strongly recommended and I strapped on my gear to get ready for the ride back to Kandahar Air Field.
The convoy rolled out. The buzz around the base these days is that most of the soldiers will be heading home in the next month as the new rotation comes in. Everyone wears their departure date like a badge of honour, and the excitement is tangible in the air for these guys and girls who have been living in the most hellish conditions imaginable for the past seven months.
I was chatting with a couple soldiers in the vehicle, who were on their way back to Kandahar Air Field with some injuries. One, a medic, was heading back for a CT scan on his back after an injury he sustained at the gym earlier in the week.
We were making small talk, finding out when everyone was going home when the convoy came up to the area outside of Salawat where a lot of IEDs had been laid in the past.
Two soldiers in the back got out to do a foot patrol to try to spot them before the vehicles rolled over them, leaving a driver, a gunner, Tobi and I, and the other soldiers still in the armoured vehicle.
The conversation naturally turned to IEDs, and which armoured vehicle was safer when they were struck by one.
Then all of the sudden the Earth opened up and spat us out.
The closest thing I can compare it to is a car accident. You're cruising along, listening to your tunes on the radio, when all of the sudden you're rolling over in the ditch and the crystal clear reality of the situation hits you like a ton of bricks.
The IED hit us in mid-sentence. Flipped the vehicle, hanging us from our seatbelts. The blast had blown my helmet and my glasses clear off my head and honestly, I had no idea what had happened until I heard Tobi screaming "Holy ****! Holy ****!"
I popped my seatbelt and fell to the ground. The vehicle was on its side and, to their credit, the soldiers had the presence of mind to know that everyone needed to get out.
Tobi turned to me and said, "I think you're bleeding."
I reached up and felt my head was wet. It wasn't blood. It was gasoline, presumably dripping from the remnants of the IED or from the busted vehicle.
I was reaching around for my helmet, when one of a soldier started yelling at me to get out of the vehicle.
I said there was no way I was getting out the vehicle without my helmet, thinking our convoy was likely to come under attack next.
After fumbling around in vain for my helmet the soldier screamed one more time for me to get out of the vehicle, so I did, without my helmet and holy terror blazing in my eyes.
The mid-afternoon sun in Afghanistan is brighter than anything I've ever seen and it glares off the deserts sand in a blinding fashion. When I got out of the darkness of the vehicle, that glare hit me and added to the confusion and chaos of the scene.
I saw our gunner prostrate on the hard desert floor, clearly blown from the vehicle. The armoured vehicle was on its side and the front end had been totalled in the blast.
Tobi and I assessed our own and each other's injuries, but were put into separate vehicles, while the Canadian soldiers secured the area.
I kept running my hands over my body looking for blood, or some sort of injury.
But all I could find was a scrape on my head, and an incredibly sore back and side from where the seatbelt was.
Aside from that, I was fine despite the fact that the blast had occurred about three metres from my head. My cage had been rattled, but I was fine.
As a testament to the resolve our soldiers, the medic with the back injury seated across from me, was on the scene administering first aid and even helped carry one of the stretchers despite his injury.
In all, one soldier sustained serious injuries while the remaining walked away from the blast. Two Blackhawk helicopters swooped in and evacuated us.
Sailing over the vineyards growing in the middle of the desert, we could see Afghans standing on their roofs watching the choppers go by.
I ran my tongue over my teeth counting them as I did to make sure they were all still there as we flew over their homes.
As the chopper blades soothed my racing mind, I marvelled at what a beautiful place this is and what it could be if it weren't for the scourge of the Taliban.
I'm not a brave man, but I didn't come to tears until I was told to call my family and I searched for the proper words to wake them with on an early Sunday morning.
I hope that things for the Afghan people don't keep getting worse.
These IEDs are a rough trade and I'm grateful that the horseshoe got the upper hand on the noose one more time.
Photo: Scott Deveau in Afghanistan. Canwest News Service. The National Post's Scott Deveau is currently embedded with Canada's soldiers in Afghanistan. He survived an IED blast that wounded six Canadian soldiers and fellow reporter Tobi Cohen of the Canadian Press. This is his account of the experience. Read Scott's other dispatches from Afghanistan
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08-26-2008, 11:28 AM #1
- Join Date
- Mar 2002
- Loco madidus effercio in rutilus effercio.
In the army you become accustomed to the fact that there are varying degrees of suck
08-26-2008, 12:51 PM #2
- Join Date
- Mar 2004
- Memphis Tn,USA-now
Not all reporters seem to look for the worst stories to tell to drum up support for the anti war types.
Some actually get out and endure with the troops.
09-04-2008, 04:23 PM #3
Nice article - GOD BLESS
Keep posting - keep writing and to all that serve our Country -
Come home soon!
09-08-2008, 12:25 PM #4
- Join Date
- Oct 2005
- East Earl, Pa
Great reading......keep them coming!Take Care!
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