With a deadly bomb possibly lying just inches under their feet, any sane person would — oh, I don’t know — run away. But these uniformed madmen have a job to do. They run toward a potential explosive, with nothing but steady hands and body armor to protect them.
It might seem nuts, but the calculated insanity practiced by teams of U.S. Army engineers may be slowly turning the tide against Afghanistan’s insurgent bombers.
On Friday afternoon in Logar Province, just south of Kabul in eastern Afghanistan, Spc. Justin Torres and Pvt. Wendell Burley, both from the U.S. Army’s 541st Engineer Company, are patrolling a dirt road with their hand-held metal detectors when they pinpoint a suspicious, buried object.
It could be nothing: garbage or decades-old scrap. Or it could be one of the roughly 1,300 bombs per month that the Taliban and other armed groups use to attack NATO forces. There’s just one way to be truly certain. Torres and Burley step aside; Sgt. Leslie Pittman and another NCO unsheathe their bayonets, leap on the spot Torres and Burley indicate, and begin digging.
The two veteran engineers have scraped several inches below the road’s surface when there’s a ding sound. One of them has struck metal. I’m standing nearby with a video camera rolling. And although I’m a veteran of several bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan — or maybe because I am — I suck in my breath and hold it.