Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Job in Afghanistan

Except for a brief explanation in one of my earliest posts I haven't really tried to describe what my job was in Afghanistan. This is in part because of the difficulty involved in doing so. My official MOS (military occupational speciality) is 12B or combat engineer. Historically, combat engineers have been mostly involved in the use of demolitions and/or area clearance (e.g., mine detection and removal) but with the proliferation of IEDs as a favorite tactic of insurgents combat engineers have mostly been involved in "route clearance" which is not as benign as it sounds. In a nutshell, combat engineers attempt to clear routes for infantry, supply lines, special forces, et al by finding and neutralizing IEDs. That sounds a lot like what EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) does which is what people most confuse combat engineers with.

But a crucial difference between a combat engineer and EOD is that the former is actually a combat MOS whereas the latter is only combat support. This is an essential distinction because it means that EOD is not permitted to engage in active combat situations and so only to be employed in a supportive role. Usually they sit around on the base until they are called out to neutralize an IED. This renders films like The Hurt Locker wholly inaccurate which is why, even with the critical acclaim it received, I did not care for that movie because an EOD unit would not have found itself in 90 percent of the situations depicted in that movie. The other chief difference between the two is that EOD is qualified to BIP (blow in place) and/or neutralize more types of IEDs than are combat engineers which is why they are equipped with a bomb suit and robotic investigative unit.

A friend of mine the other day pointed out to me a documentary that National Geographic did on combat engineers called Bomb Hunters. I've watched some of it and it is pretty accurate in terms of what I did in Afghanistan. For those interested more specifically in the day to day operations of a Route Clearance unit I suggest watching this documentary. Here's the link to the first part (embed doesn't work):

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