Saturday, August 22, 2009

Armed Only With A Bayonet

I'm thinking it would be quite enough of a job just to be an "explosive ordnance disposal operator" in Afghanistan. But how would you like to tackle one of those IEDs without the benefit of your military-issued dismantling gear?

After surviving the first explosion which ripped through the Bison armoured vehicle he was riding in and destroyed his gear on September 28, 2006, Petty Officer (second class) Jim Leith faced the second IED armed only with his wits, training (obviously not to be underestimated) and a bayonet.

The Dartmouth [Nova Scotia]-based specialist wanted to dismantle the second improvised explosive device so he could get evidence against the insurgents who planted it and the first bomb.

He crawled to the IED. Leaning over, he gently brushed away the hot, sandy dirt from the device meant to kill him and his comrades.

"You’re thinking a hundred thoughts," Petty Officer Leith said Monday, remembering that dawn morning, a third of the way into the group’s 72 bomb-clearing missions in the hard-fought Pashmul district.

"If it goes off, I’ll never feel it," he said, thinking he would just be a puff of "pink mist" if the bomb did its job.

He was also thinking about his number two operator, Cpl. Jim Lightle, who had been medevaced out within a couple of minutes of the first explosion. The corporal’s leg had been "shattered," remembered Petty Officer Leith, a navy clearance diver and explosive ordnance disposal operator.

Fortunately, his friend was rushed into surgery at the hospital at Kandahar Airfield and was later airlifted to a forces hospital in Germany.

For Petty Officer Leith, the task of dismantling the double-stacked IED remained. He had to see if it was booby-trapped.

Sometimes, insurgents aren’t content with one or two bombs, they’ll add a grenade underneath for good measure, he said.

"I’d just got my bell rung 40 minutes ago," he said. "You’ve got to make the lonely walk (to the IED). Somebody’s gotta do it."

Dirt brushed away, he cut a wire connected to the IED that had been buried under the dirt.

The earlier blast had destroyed his sophisticated dismantling gear, so he turned to his bayonet.

Using the "nice, sharp pointy end," Petty Officer Leith rendered the Taliban’s IED useless.

He won’t reveal exactly how he did it.

"We’re all . . . trained to do certain things with certain tools. We can’t let them in on our playbook."
It took a full day before the ringing in the Petty Officer's head subsided. To say nothing of his aches and pains from the blast.

In June, 2008, Leith was awarded the Star of Courage which is awarded to those who perform acts of "conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril."

Well done, Petty Officer. And on behalf of your fellow Canadians, may God bless you.


Casdok said...

Its hard tyo imagine what these men go through. I am really pleased his bravery was honored.

xformed said...

It only played two weeks in the theaters here, but look for it on DVD (I hope): The Hurt Locker. Trailers are on YouTube.

It's a thinker of a movie. Not having been EOD, but hanging around with some, it got good reviews and gives you an idea of what he was dealing with.

xformed said...

PS: for the record, my Mom's family is from Vancouver. I loved it up we are semi-countrymen and both jumpers, too.

MMC said...

Thanks xformed, I will have to look it up.

Hey, who knew we had so much in common? That's one of the many things I've found amazing about hanging out at Lex's ... the people I've met. To say nothing of the things I've learned. :D