Sunday, October 31, 2010

You realize every time you suit up, every time we go out, it's life or death. You roll the dice, and you deal with it.

The Movie " Hurt Locker " was what we expect to see from Hollywood - part truth, part fiction. Long on showing us what they THINK we want to see and a lot of what a bunch of writers imagine would happen.....and that's why we get crappy movies along with some good ones....sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don't.

I prefer the REAL DEAL...FACT beats FICTION anytime as real life is always stranger....

The Daily Mail rode around Afghanistan along with the real " Hurt Locker" on and ride along with them....pretty gripping stuff.

Good Show Lads.....Jolly Good Show.

The real Hurt Locker: The heroism of British bomb experts clearing the path for troops in Helmand

By Kate Holt Daily Mail
Last updated at 11:30 AM on 31st October 2010

Live asked British journalist Kate Holt to photograph British bomb experts clearing the path for British troops in Helmand. After a year waiting for clearance, this is the result: in words and extraordinary pictures shorn of Hollywood gloss, an account of unquestioning heroism in the face of appalling danger

I am in Helmand Province to see the first Afghan counter-IED (improvised explosive devices) troops being trained by their British counterparts, a crucial milestone on the path to self-sufficiency. I have been posted to an Afghan National Army (ANA) camp called Artillery Hill, overlooking the town of Gereshk.
The Governor of Gereshk has requested about 100 soldiers from 1 Scots and the Royal Engineers to remove IEDs from a 1.5-mile stretch of road running out of town along a canal towards an Afghan National Police checkpoint in insurgent-held territory.

There have been three IED incidents involving civilians along the road, as well as one attack on an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) vehicle. This has made the road impassable and the Afghan police checkpoint unmannable. The plan is for the British unit to clear the road, and use the opportunity to show the Afghans how it’s done.
Arriving at the ‘incident control point’ – a designated spot close to where forces rendezvous – I meet soldiers from 1 Scots coming off ‘stag’ (guard duty) on the road that’s being cleared. They tell me that Afghan troops and police have been involved in several incidents of friendly fire in the night. Casualties have been taken.
I’m introduced to the seven-man Royal Engineer search team and the four-man ATO team (ammunition technical officers), who disarm the explosive devices. Their Mastiff armoured vehicle is parked in the middle of the road, about 50 yards in front of where it was parked the day before. Progress has been slow. Two members of the search team are checking a cordon down either side of the vehicle, in the dusty verges.
This stretch has been designated ‘red’ – the most dangerous – for British troops to clear. Less hazardous ‘amber’ sections at either end of it are being cleared by the newly trained Afghan army searchers. ‘Green’ sections yet further away are being checked by Afghan police.
No one can have a more immediate sense of the dangers of his task than Sgt Hobden. Just two weeks ago acting Corporal David Barnsdale, of 33 Engineer Regiment, a 24-year-old on his second tour, was killed during a similar operation to clear IEDs in Gereshk. He was walking past an armoured personnel carrier in a small patch of safe ground surrounded by a minefield when an IED exploded. Moments later, Hobden had been one of the first into the crater looking for clues.

Confronting this latest alert, Stewie the £250,000 robot (named after the baby in the Family Guy cartoon series) is sent forward; it finds the device’s detonation cord and pulls it out. Yellow plastic oil bottles containing the charges follow it out of the ground. They are laid on top of the Tarmac.
This operation takes nearly an hour. Sgt Hobden then has to make sure the device has been successfully deactivated. He sets off on the lonely walk, with a corporal ten feet behind to provide cover.

‘This is my first time working with Jay,’ says his number two, Tim Latchford – who operates the robot – as Sgt Hobden departs. ‘He passed the High Threat Course the first time round, which is rare for an ATO. The fail rate is very high, about 75 per cent.
Corporal Kevin Bain, leading the search team, confers with Sgt Hobden, who goes down on the ground and confirms the first find, marking the area off with white powder. I see him discussing something with Cpl Bain and pointing to other areas around the find. They come back to the vehicle.
‘I can see that some of the devices have been dug in for a while, but some have definitely been dug in more recently,’ he says.

‘I think the insurgents were aware of this operation and have upped the numbers to make it harder. Someone was telling me the insurgents have an expression, “The Yanks have digital watches but we have time.” Pretty much sums up this place. They have nothing more to do than lay complex IED attacks using things they can find in their back yard, and it can take us days to safely defuse them, despite all the technology we have.

The team take it in turns to climb into the back of the air-conditioned Mastiff to cool off. The Tarmac has become too hot to sit on. Sgt Hobden returns from confirming the huge number of suspected IEDs near the police checkpoint, looking ashen-faced. He vomits alongside the vehicle.
‘I can’t go on today,’ he says. ‘The heat’s too intense. I haven’t acclimatised yet.’ He has been in the country less than two weeks. He has another six months to go.

The team begin to pack up for the day. As Stewie is manoeuvred down the road, gunfire erupts in the air overhead. ‘Inside the vehicle!’ Sgt Hobden orders. Everyone clambers inside the Mastiff, tumbling over guns, Vallons, ration packs and Molly the sniffer dog. Nobody is sure where the firing came from – although it sounds like RPG fire, too close for comfort.

‘Last month one of our guys lost both legs – doesn’t really seem worth it, does it?’

He’s talking about Sapper Ashley Hall, currently being treated at Selly Oak after stepping on a pressure plate that his Vallon failed to detect. The Royal Engineer search team intend to visit him as soon as they get home. (Which, one month later, they do.)

‘When Ash was blown up I was facing the other way,’ the soldier tells me. ‘There was suddenly this big explosion and all this dust and debris and smoke. I looked to where Ash had been and expected him to walk out of the smoke saying, “Hey, close one,” or something like that. But he didn’t. The ATO and Kev (Cpl Bain) were the first to get to him and did his first aid. I ensured a path was clear so the medical team could get to him. I saw his legs. They were just bare bones, with a bit of blood.’
The next day I am up at seven again. There’s some question as to whether Sgt Hobden is fit to work, after being ill the day before. But at 9am we get a radio message saying that he’s ready to go. While I wait for a ride to join the ATO team, I talk to the ANA commander about the new Afghan search teams. He wants the entire Afghan army to have some level of IED training. Because of the indiscriminate carnage they cause, often in markets with no ISAF forces in the vicinity, there has been more intelligence coming from local populations on where they can be found. But at the same time, as the Taliban suffer increasing attrition they are resorting to ever more desperate IED tactics.
A checkpoint is set up at the gate – searching people bringing in the injured. A 1 Scots paramedic team runs down the hill to treat two injured men who have been brought halfway up to the camp in a rickshaw. Suddenly, gunfire rings out. The paramedics are taking incoming fire from insurgents hiding in nearby buildings. Now the camp itself is taking fire. We all have to crouch low as the bullets and dust fly. Moaning victims are being stretchered up the hill, an old man holding his hands to his bleeding eyes and crying in pain, a boy covered in blood, a man missing part of his leg. A helicopter is radioed to evacuate the casualties.

An hour later I get my convoy down the road to rejoin the ATO team, who are already hard at it – searching, clearing, cutting wires. By 4pm an exhausted Sgt Hobden decides that the police checkpoint should be blown up.

‘I doubt there are any more remote controlled devices on this road,’ he says. ‘We’ve been working here for five days and they would have detonated them by now. I suspect there are several more devices inside the ANP checkpoint, and on the roof. I don’t want to risk the search team going in there. It’s safer to blow it up and get rid of it all.’

The following day Molly the sniffer dog searches the road that the ATO has cleared over the last four days, checking for any explosive charges that may have been missed. It takes three hours. After she finishes, the 1 Scots EOD team lay charges in the police checkpoint building, and blow it up. By midday the Royal Engineers are on the road, negotiating the building of the two new ANP checkpoints – hopefully to stop more IEDs being laid.
‘None of these guys will do this job ever again,’ Cpl Bain tells me as we watch. ‘You can only do this job so many times until your luck runs out.’

It has taken one week to clear a little over one mile of road. Afghanistan covers over 250,000 square miles.

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