News: IED training: more than meets the eye
Story by Cpl. Paul Peterson
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - A Marine cautiously raked the inside of a doorway with a pole twice his height. He skirted the left side of it, drawing the metal hook slowly through the dirt … nothing. He shifted to the right, gently pulled the hook through the ground, and froze.
Something was there.
“I could feel a little bit of tension,” said Pfc. James E. Varnell, a light armored vehicle repairman with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. “It just clicked. I don’t know what exactly, but all of a sudden I said, ‘Back off. It’s a wire.’”
It was one of the most important lessons the Macclesfield, N.C., native would learn as he and his class of nearly 25 Marines made their way through an improvised explosive device training field here, Feb. 7.
“It is about trusting your gut instincts,” said Staff Sgt. Samuel A. Beltram, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd MLG, and an instructor for the course. “There’s a reason you usually have a first feeling about something – it’s usually right. Second guessing yourself is a bad thing.”
Beltram, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, reached into the dirt and pulled out a length of wire attached to a triggering mechanism located in the center of the doorway. It was a chokepoint the Marines had to pass through and a perfect location for an IED.
“The IED fight is a very real thing, and it is not going to go away,” he said. “These guys need the experience to know that IEDs apply to everyone and learn that with a minimal amount of training they can actually find these things and keep themselves and their friends from getting hurt.”
The instructors worked with the Marines for more than an hour on recognizing the signs of a possible IED. Disturbed earth, piles of trash, or even an out of place stone could warn the servicemembers of danger.
“The biggest part was looking at the bigger picture,” said Lance Cpl. Jamie Boerio, a tank repairman with the battalion. “You can never get too much experience learning not to overlook the obvious or see the bigger picture. The better you get at it, the more comfortable and safer you are when you actually have to do it.”
The students swept the field with metal detectors and raked the dirt with improvised probes to locate possible explosives. After each discovery, the instructors took a moment to examine the scene and draw attention to the small details left behind by the bomb emplacers.
“It’s the value of life,” said Boerio, a native of Poland, Ohio. “One little thing such as an overturned [rock] could mean the difference between stepping on an IED or digging it up.”
The course also exposed the Marines to many of the common bomb-making materials they may encounter in the field. By seeing how the enemy can use simple items such as household trash to create weapons, it is hoped the Marines can better anticipate possible threats.
Communication, practice, attention to detail and a heightened sense of awareness are key, noted Beltram, who played out his final lesson close to his chest.
He worked side by side with the Marines for more than an hour, but no one pointed out the now obvious threat hidden in plain sight. As he knelt down to reveal the device in the doorway, some of the Marines caught a glimpse of a wire under his uniform.
He was the final threat.