Saturday, July 25, 2009

When Courage Is the Job

Last night, while I was flailing myself against the Tire of Woe, the Engineers that live across the "quad" from us were performing their PCI (Pre-Combat Checks and Inspections) before rolling out on a route clearance mission. Imagine having a job in which you go out and drive the routes US Forces frequently travel, looking for IEDs. And, of course, once you find them you have to reduce them.
The route clearance teams usually go out late at night, after "IED hour" when the insurgents use the cover of darkness to emplace their ordnance. Because IEDs have to be distinguished from the trash, rubble, and refuse that litter every main thoroughfare in Mosul, the route clearance teams travel under white light. Actually, the team's vehicles are festooned with High-Lumen lights (that make them look like an extraterrestrial convoy in a John Carpenter movie) in order to better see the dangers. And, because they have to scan every inch of the road, gutters, culverts, pylons, and guard rails on their route, clearance teams move at about 3 to 5 mph. The combination of being lit up like a football stadium and moving at a snail's pace makes them a lucrative target for every jihadi, insurgent, and criminal out there with an RPG, a BKC (I know; I call it a PKMS, too), or an RKG-3--and did I mention that they're out there looking for bombs?
This is a job that I would not want. Unlike a lot of us who occasionally have a "spike" in the danger quotient of our duty performance, guys like the route clearance team have a job in which danger is an integral, significant dimension of the job, and risk assumption is as much a part of the day as putting on the body armor. When all military personnel and first responders join their respective professions, they know that risk is an inherent part of the job. Still, there are some for whom the danger is high, clear, and always present, and we owe a debt of gratitude to all of those who, knowing the risk, strap on their kit and roll out anyway. These guys are often anonymous and the jobs are frequently thankless, like the route clearance studs, EOD technicians (pull quote from the linked article: "[your job] is who you are, down to your DNA.") and the "meat shields" of the Secret Service (being the muttonhead that I am, I can't help but wish I could meet Mr. Mixon in his mat room, for, uh, a mutually beneficial, professionally edifying exchange of tactics, techniques, and procedures to enhance interagency cooperation and interoperability).

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