[November 9, 2022] Mines! We all have fear; small, large, immobilizing, ulcer-inducing, and generally unpleasant at best. One of my fears has been explosive mines. Originally an Infantryman and then a Combat Engineer, mines were always part of my mission, mostly not to step on one. Mines scare me. Here is what I learned from explosive mines.
“You get to pick your damn sacrifice. That’s all. You don’t get to not make one. You’re sacrificial whether you want to be or not.” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
Military mines have a singular purpose: to slow down the enemy. Wherever they’ve been deployed, they work. They work by forcing an attacking army to slow its pace to protect themselves, redirecting an advance onto another avenue, and by instilling fear in the ground forces. Historically you can find the use of mines as far back as the written word. They have been an integral part of warfare since humans walked the earth because that is who they target.
My first experience with mines was during the invasion of Iraq. The Iraqi Army laid anti-personnel mines on top of our main avenues of approach into the large cities, with a particularly dense pattern south of Baghdad. What to do? How do you deal with tens of thousands of mines? That was our task, and the brass wanted it solved NOW, not in an hour or so. The solution? Use the armored combat engineer vehicle with a blade on the front to plow the mines off the road, just like the New York City dump trucks plow snow. That may sound simple, but in a combat situation, nothing is easy, and solutions are hard to create and implement.
Walking along an embankment one day as part of an Engineer Reconnaissance in force, we came upon a minefield. It was easy to see them lying on top of the ground, and the practical solution was to walk around them and call in their location to our headquarters. But, nothing is easy in combat, so one of our Privates had to ask why so many “training” mines were laid about. I was on the mission because we were there to locate a water source (the desert is dry and water is very important). Why I asked, did the Private think it was a training mine? Simple, he says, it’s tinged blue, and training mines are blue. No problem; my solution was to have him kick the mine to see if it would blow up. He decided not to kick it. Problem solved.
One day, I was working on my HUMMV when a small explosion went off near me. While clearing the brush next to a road, one of our third-country national contractors stepped on a mine, and the explosion blew off his lower leg (the very thing I had nightmares about). We rushed him to the nearest Aid Station for treatment to prevent him from bleeding to death. He survived. The lesson I reinforced to my Engineers was don’t step where you can’t see. Otherwise, don’t be surprised by the results.
A squad of Engineer Firefighters was stationed at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP for shorty). One day very early in the Iraq War, a DHL white Boeing 727 took a Surface-to-Air missile in one of its engines. This required an emergency landing at BIAP. When the pilot very skillfully landed the jet, he drove off the runway into the fields adjacent to the runway. Our Firefighters were quick to the scene, but in driving off the runway, they became ensnared in a minefield and blew out all their truck’s tires. Early in the war, firetruck tires were hard to replace.
Short before the big “surge” in troops in early 2007, U.S. Engineers were sent out east of Baghdad to build a Brigade Combat Team encampment. Usually, this would take years to build properly, but we had only 90 days. I sent Air Force civil engineers and their REDHORSE unit, with a mix of Navy Seabees and Army Construction engineers to clear the site of destroyed structures, equipment, and other debris. But I got an emergency call. Our engineers were turning up large numbers of mines, and our crews were afraid to dismount their dozers and other vehicles for fear of stepping on a mine. My directive was to just run over the mines to pre-detonate them. Problem solved.
I don’t have nightmares about explosive mines anymore. That’s a good thing. But I’ll never forget the lessons I learned from having them around.
Please read my books: