20 January 2012

Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole....

What a Blast!

From the Soldier side: Isn’t if funny how when as we get older and look back at some things we did in our lives, there are some points that were great. And others that were not. As I learned and say often: “you can’t have an adventure without some part of it sucking!” This was true for almost all the adventures I had as both a civilian cop and a soldier.

My Army days started out in late 1974. I joined up, went into the infantry, did my 2 years and got the hell out. Although we had some good people in those days, we had too many who were not so good. It was after the Viet Nam war was over and the Army was “All Volunteer.” In plain language, we didn’t get the best and the brightest. We actually had some who couldn’t read or write. I’m not kidding!

So I got out and stayed as far away as I could for 13 years. Then one night while I was on police patrol, I sat down and had a cup (of coffee) with a deputy friend of mine. I had worked with him many times, backing each other up on calls and he was a good guy. I heard he was in the California Army National Guard, so I asked him about it.

He was a platoon sergeant for a combat engineer platoon.

(Basic Army organization: There are usually Teams- 4-5 soldiers; two teams make squad. 4 squads make a platoon. 3-5 platoons make a company. Let’s stop there)

When I was in the regular Army, I only saw the combat engineers out in the field with us one time. They were putting up a barbed wire entanglement, and they didn’t look like they knew what they were doing.

Click here to see what that is: Engineer traps and stuff....

So, my Deputy friend told me what combat engineers did. They had all kinds of construction equipment and tools…dump truck, bull dozers, loaders, backhoes, etc. Their job was to build stuff. And…blow shit up.

Me: “you said, blow shit up? Like how?”

Deputy: “with C4, TNT, or whatever is called for to do the job.”

Me: “How can I find out more?”
Deputy: “come to our next weekend drill.”

I did, and I was hooked.  It looked like another way to have an adventure- one weekend a month.

…and off I was to Combat Engineer School.   ..But not the full 8 week course that brand new recruits go through, but the short 2 week course that is set up for prior serves Reserves. 

We went through the information really fast and what would normally take a week; we did in a day or less.  The time we spent on the demo range could have been longer in my opinion.  At the time we went to the range to blast, the camp we were at actually wanted us to blow up some remains of old buildings.  Cool. 

The day we went to blow up the remains of the old buildings is the day I really found how much the Army National Guard is the unwanted step child of the US Army.  We were given 15 pounds of TNT blocks….dated 1952.  This was military stuff, so it was more stable than civilian stuff, but it was still Korean War vintage!  WTF? 

Now, I’m sure most of my readers don’t know most of the technical stuff about explosives, but military explosives need military blasting caps to set them off. The civilian type blasting caps are only about half as powerful.  (Forget what you see on TV and movies) So, guess what we had to use…civilian blasting caps to set off our 40 year old stuff.  This was going to be “typical National Guard” SNAFU. 

As a class, we set the charges on the old building remains.  We set each charge with a group of students.  I was watching some of the other students.  Some of them got very nervous and shaky when handling stuff that could turn you into red vapor.  The instructors were keeping a very close eye on some. 

We took our time setting the charges, got everything double checked by the instructor and then I was asked to figure out and cut the time fuse for the non-electric civilian blasting caps we had to use. 

I figured 5 minutes was plenty of time to get to cover.  We set the igniters, yelled: “Fire in the hole” three times, pulled them to light the fuse and took off.  Three of us were watching our watches to count down the time….1 minute.

2 minutes

3 minutes

4 minutes

5 minutes

6 minutes, 7, 8, 9, 10 still no blast.  We waited and had lunch just to be safe.  As we ate lunch, we discussed what could have gone wrong with the blast….we had double primed it, so it must have been the weak blasting caps.  Damn it! 

After two hours of waiting, the head instructor asked for 3 volunteers to walk down range with him and check the TNT and see why it didn’t go “boom.” 

Two of us students said we’d go with him.  I felt safe, but most of the others were worried it’d blow up when we got there.  We checked out the TNT and found that the blasting caps had popped, but had no effect.  We decided it would be best to set a counter charge of one pound of C4 on top of the TNT and use military blasting caps, triple primed and prayed it would blow the second time. 

It did blow.  From that day, until we got deployed to Bosnia and Iraq, the National Guard units I was with usually got left over equipment from the regular Army.  In many cases, it caused the mission to fail, or we had to pull stuff out of our ass to make it work.  Many times we had no fuel for our vehicles and would have to stop at a civilian gas station and use our own credit cards to fill the trucks up. 

More Combat Engineer stories to follow… 

UPDATED, I found some old photos: 
1950's "Vintage" TNT


TheNewMagoo said...

Hey, it wasn't "old" TNT, it was vintage... some hipster kid with tight pants, unattractive glasses and an ironic bicycle would think it really coooool or whatevs.

Glad it eventually went KABLOOEY though :)
I think you need to check out some Youtube vids of a chap called Fred Dibnah - that's how we do 'splosions in my neck o' th' woods. (Not quite how we all talk though)

Anonymous said...

1. Combat Engineers and EOD were rare birds and always welcome wherever I was.
2. Not enough of 'em to go around.
3. Were given explosives, blasting caps, det cord and fuse lighters -for blowing booby traps in place because of the shortage of you folks.
4. Were handed chain saws, bar oil, warned about kick back and turned loose on trees outside the perimeter.
5. That was probably more dangerous than the explosives.
6. A combat engineer squad could do more work in half a day than my grunt company could in a month.
7. Filling sand bags in 90 degree heat makes patrolling look attractive.
8. God bless the engineers!
V/R JWest

Old NFO said...

LOL, yeah, I can see that happening (or not)... :-) Good friend of mine LEO type, was EOD, went through the FBI school; he has a 'few' stories... I used to haul Navy EOD around on occasion.

CI-Roller Dude said...

New M, It had RUST on the end caps!!! It was OLD!!! Even older than me.

Mr West, Yep, we got some of that later...stand by.

el chupacabra said...

Once on a demo range we set 23 sticks of TNT around a huge tree stump and daisy chained them. It staggered us even in the safety bunker and rung our bells- with ear pro in when it blew. There was one piece of wood left that was maybe 2x4 or 4x6 inches and 3 or 4 feet long left for us to watch descending to the ground from 100 plus feet up in the air.

It was a beautiful thing.

I think I spotted a little.

We probably spent an hour filling the hole to clear the range.

Combat Engineer= the only MOS a grunt or scout will have any real respect for if he has any idea how the world really turns.