Two homemade bombs went off near a sidewalk in Sadr City, reports The Times, in a series of explosions that killed at least 15 people in Iraq and engulfed one vehicle traveling in a U.S. military convoy in flames. The attack serves as a reminder that the IED, or improvised explosive devise, is one of the most horrific aspects of the war.
This sort of scene is currently playing out on theater screens: The Hurt Locker, a new movie about Iraq, traces the lives of the men who are responsible for defusing the bombs. It seems super-realistic and authentic, even with its flaws (Tom Ricks on The Best Defense recommends the movie, but has pointed out quite a few of them). In truth, however, the experience of bomb-defusing in the summer of 2004, when the movie takes place, was quite different for a lot of the people who were actually involved in the undertaking.
On Sunday, I interviewed a former Marine who had been a bomb-defuser in Anbar Province during that time. We were sitting at a table at his grandmother’s house in Metamora, Illinois, and I asked him what it was like to defuse the IEDs. I said it must have been rough, and he said it wasn't bad, explaining that you just have to know how to do it right.
“No, it’s really hard and scary,” I said. “You haven't seen the movie!” (Hey, I was joking). Everyone at the table, his mom, his aunt, his grandmother, even he, laughed.
“Oh, she should know,” his mom said, “she's seen the movie!”
He told me that basically the heroes in the movie – EODs, as they were known, since they worked in Explosive Ordnance Disposal -- were understaffed and took forever to show up, sometimes six hours or more. “We call EOD guys ‘Engineers Off Duty’ because they’re OFP,” he said. They're their “Own Fucking Program.”
Another Marine who served in the same squad in Anbar Province – he is now living in Illinois, and is studying to be a paramedic -- told me that once they came across a bomb-filled mini-truck on the side of the road and contacted the people from Explosive Ordnance Disposal but had to wait so long for them that one of his friends just crawled underneath the truck and duct-taped C4 plastic explosives to the axle and then lit a fuse and left. He had less than four minutes to get out of the way. It worked. No robot suit or armor, either.
For all The Hurt Locker’s scariness and authenticity, the heroes in the movie have nothing on what these guys did.