Battleland

Walking Through an IED Minefield “On a Daily Basis”

  • Share
  • Read Later
TONY KARUMBA / AFP / Getty Images

Dust kicks off the ground during an operation by US Army soldiers attached to the 2nd platoon, C-Coy. 1-23 Infantry based at Zangabad foward operating base in Panjwai ditrict after Anti Personnel Obstacle Breaching System -- abbreviated as A-POBS (charges fired by rocket and trigger safe detonation of IED's used to make roadside bombs) -- detonate on a nearby road during a dawn operation at Naja-bien village on Sept. 23, 2012.

Last Thursday the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee held a hearing on the Pentagon’s efforts to defeat improvised explosive devices, the homemade bombs that are now the leading cause of death among U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Lieut. General Michael Barbero, director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, told the subcommittee that the number of “IED events” had jumped 42% — from 9,300 to 16,000 – between 2009 and 2011. That’s 44 IEDs detected or detonated every day. “We’re on track, for 2012, to meet or exceed the historic number of IED events we saw last year,” the JIEDDO chief added. “As a matter of fact, this past July — July 2012 — we had the highest number of monthly IED events we’ve recorded.”

But nothing that was said was particularly noteworthy. Rather, it was what was read that got attention.

It was near the end of the hearing that Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, R-Fla., the subcommittee chairman, asked that Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton’s June email to Young, his congressman, be read into the record.

And so it was:

Hello, my name is Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton. I am in the 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I am currently deployed with the 4th Brigade Combat Team in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

I am writing you because I am concerned for the safety of my soldiers. This is my third combat tour to Afghanistan, so I have seen the transition in rules of engagement and overall tactics over the past six years. I am only writing this email because I feel myself and my soldiers are being put into unnecessary positions where harm and danger are imminent. I know the threat of casualties in war and am totally on board with sacrifice for my country, but what I do not agree with is the chain of command making us walk through — for lack of a better term — basically a minefield on a daily basis.

I am in a platoon of 25 soldiers. We are operating at a tempo that is set for a full 35- to 40-man infantry platoon. We have been mandated to patrol twice daily for two-to-four hours each patrol on top of guarding our forward operating base and conducting routine maintenance of our equipment. There is no end state or purpose for the patrols given to us from our higher chain of command, only that we will be out for a certain period of time.

I am all for getting on the ground and fighting for my country when I know there is a desired end state and we have clear guidance of what needs to be done. But when we are told basically to just go walk around for a certain amount of time is not sitting well with me. As a brigade, we are averaging at a minimum an amputee a day from our soldiers because we are walking around aimlessly through grape rows and compounds that are littered with explosives, not to mention that the operating tempo that every soldier is on leaves little to no time for rest and refit. The morale and alertness levels on our patrols are low, and it is causing casualties left and right.

Here is an example of how bad things have gotten. Our small forward operating base was flooded accidentally by a local — that being citizen — early one morning a few days ago. He was watering his fields, and the dam he had broke, and water came flooding into our living area. Since our forward operating base does not have portable bathrooms, we had to dig a hole in the ground where soldiers could use for the bathroom. That also got flooded and contaminated the water, that later soaked into every soldier…and his gear.

Instead of returning to base and cleaning up, our chain of command was set on us meeting the brigade commander’s two-patrols-a-day guidance, that they made us move outside the flooded forward operating base and conduct our patrol soaked in urine.

That is just one single instance of the unsatisfactory situation that our chain of command has put us in. At least three of my soldiers have gotten sick since that incident and taken away from our combat power because of their illness caused by unhealthy conditions.

I understand that as a commander you are to follow the orders of those appointed over you. However, there needs to be a time where the wellness of your soldiers needs to take priority over walking around in fields four hours a day for no rhyme or reason but only to meet the brigade commander’s guidance of: you will conduct so many patrols for such an allotted time.

I am concerned about the well-being of my soldiers and have tried to voice my opinion through the proper channels of my own chain of command, only to be turned away and told that I need to stop complaining.

It is my responsibility to take care of my soldiers, and there is only so much I can do with that little bit of rank I have. My guys would fight by my side and have my back in any condition, and I owe it to them to have their best interest in mind. I know they would, and I certainly would appreciate it if there was something that you could do to help us out. I just want to return my guys home to their families healthy.

I apologize for taking your time like this, sir, and I appreciate what you do for us. I was told to contact you by my grandmother, who said you had helped my uncle many years ago. He was also serving in the military at that time.

Thank you again for allowing soldiers to voice their opinion. If anything, please pray for us.

God bless.

Less than two months later, on Aug. 2, Sitton, 26, and 1st Sgt. Russell R. Bell, 37, of Tyler, Texas, were killed by an IED blast. Sitton leaves behind a wife and a nine-month old son.

In another unexceptional round of contract announcements late Monday, the Army announced it would be spending $150 million more to defend against the IED threat — $138 million for Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles’ “Survivability Upgrade Kits” and “Vehicle Emergency Egress Windows,” and $14 million to support MRAP “fire suppression system and air conditioning.” Incredibly, the U.S. has spent at least $58 billion trying to defeat IEDs — $18 billion on JIEDDO, and $40 billion on MRAPs.

In the forever game – so long as you’re not killed or maimed – of offense-vs.-defense, the bad guys keep trumping U.S. efforts to stomp out the IED threat. JIEDDO boss Barbero elaborated at Thursday’s hearing, sounding a little like George Jetson trying to outfox Fred Flintstone:

The enemy…is adaptive and smart. They watch us. They know we have handheld detectors, so they have gone to non-metallic IEDs. The pressure plates and, in this [Sitton] case, we think the pressure plate was wooden. And what they do is they take carbon rods from D-cell batteries, which do not have a very high metallic content, but they have enough to complete the circuit when they’re touched, and two pieces of wood, a plastic jug filled with homemade explosive, ammonium nitrate, bury it with the battery underneath so we can’t pick that up, and that’s what they use.

Young is the senior Republican member of the House, having served since 1971. He is a longtime supporter of the Afghan war. But that missive from his 26-year-old constituent, and his fate, has changed the 81-year-old lawmaker’s thinking. “I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can,” he told the Tampa Bay Times last week. “I just think we’re killing kids that don’t need to die.”

23 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
jokerZwild
jokerZwild

After almost 10 years and countless needless deaths, now the senator decides we should get out. Good to know he's looking out for his constituents. 

LK312
LK312

Sgt. Sitton convinced me, too.  I hope his death has not been in vain and that he convinces many more people that we need to end this senseless war and waste of young lives.

R.I.P., Soldier.  You've served your country proudly.  Now, hopefully, our leaders will serve your memory proudly, too.

BobJan
BobJan

The soldiers in Afghanistan need to do what they did in Vietnam. "Refuse to fight". If it sounds cowardice then you should go and take their place. If we have any soldiers who are muslims, mormons, atheists, or non'christians anywhere we need to remove them and replace them with christians who are so gung-ho for all this war stuff. If you want to go and fight Iran to defend Israel then the whole armed forces of military should be made up of christians. If this sounds like I'm anti'christian, I'm not. I'm just trying to make a point. The "right" has gotten their base so fired up about all this defending Israel stuff that I'm ready to explode. If you're a christian and you want to go and defend Israel, go sign up, get some infantry training, and go man go. If you want to defend Israel send your children. Don't expect to beat the war drums for someone elses sons and daughters. Send your own.

Bob, Vietnam, 1st Cav., 67/68 and also a "christian". WWJD

JohnParish
JohnParish

Help support the change in the way election campaign funds

are raised.  Stop the Super Pacs from

steering the candidates and ruling the government. 

Come march on Congress and show them that the American

Population do not want candidates to be persuaded by these Super Pacs any more.

Visit www.indiegogo.com/SuperPac

and help raise the awareness of this problem.

onejackdaw
onejackdaw

It sounds like our soldiers are being used as walking mine detectors.  Not gun fodder, but mine fodder.

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

Good for Congressman Young in finally coming to that realization. Now he needs to convince all his other colleagues.

We should have been out of Afghanistan years ago, and we never should have gone to Iraq in the first place. The blood and suffering of every soldier who has died or come home wounded, maimed or battling the torments of PTSD stains our hands as a nation.

lokiii
lokiii

Too bad the world doesn't make people who warmonger lead their wars from the front.  If that was the case the world would be a far quieter place to live.  I'm Republican and yes I dare say it these wars that last generations are B.S.   

mqurashi
mqurashi

The weapon industry makes sure that our polititians do not learn the leasons from our decade long failure in Vietnam. Conflicts are easy to start but very difficult to disengage. Once again we are being coaxed into another needless war by the GOP candidate who has been prompted by Israel's Natanyahu. While we are wasting time and money, that we do not have, on wars, our nation is falling behind in the world in terms of education and deteriorating infrastructure.  

grape_crush
grape_crush

“I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can...”

Everyone knows that, few want to admit to it.

“I just think we’re killing kids that don’t need to die.”

And that's the price of not being willing to admit to it. Shame.

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

Why has it taken so many years for any responsible lawmaker to believe we should not have been out of Afghanistan years ago? Americans know it's about the contractors. We're babysitting them. There is nothing about this stunningly brutal war that encourages patriotism. Obama's "We-have-al-qaeda-on-the-run"-lies are nauseating. David Petraeus's documented lies about all the "progress" in Afghanistan stink more now than ever. The creep and all his medals - based on, what?? Bob Gates, Mike Mullen,, Leon Panetta - all deceitfulmen who should feel shame and the sting of dishonor right down to their bones. They are all still walking upright, above ground. More than can be said for thousands of other Americans and hundreds of thousands of tragic Afghan civilians.

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

Why has it taken so many years for any responsible lawmakers to believe we should not have been out of Afghanistan years ago? Americans know it's about the contractors. We're babysitting them. There is nothing about this stunningly brutal war that encourages patriotism. Obama's "We-have-al-qaeda-on-the-run"-lies are nauseating. David Petraeus's documented lies about all the "progress" in Afghanistan stink more now than ever. The creep and all his medals - based on, what?? Bob Gates, Mike Mullen,, Leon Panetta - all deceitful men who should feel shame and the sting of dishonor right down to their bones. They are all still walking upright, above ground. More than can be said for thousands of other Americans and hundreds of thousands of tragic Afghan civilians.

cent_fan
cent_fan

"The enemy…is adaptive and smart. They watch us. They know we have handheld detectors, so they have gone to non-metallic IEDs. The pressure plates and, in this [Sitton] case, we think the pressure plate was wooden."

I'm sure that's been done since WW2 and possibly before.  It was learned again in Korea and again in Vietnam and again in Iraq and again and again.  The only way to defeat IED's operationally is to have the ability to go anywhere and be totally unpredictable... in other words develop true "all-terrain" vehicles... which would probably have legs, not wheels, not tracks...

"Incredibly, the U.S. has spent at least $58 billion trying to defeat IEDs — $18 billion on JIEDDO, and $40 billion on MRAPs."

No wonder my stock keeps going up.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Get us out of the Middle East.  Did we learn absolutely nothing from Vietnam? Stories like this among others I've heard from family members that have served over there make me furious when I see chicken hawks on here suggesting we go to war in Libya or Iran. Bring these soldiers home.

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

Yes... we learned that, if you can guarantee the influential and bloodthirsty that they and their offspring will never have to risk being killed, support will inevitably rise.

If you can fund the fighting through "supplemental budget requests" so that it doesn't obviously increase any deficits, complaints over the cost tend to disappear, too.

That's what we learned from Vietnam...

Why actually fight in a war when you can spend 50 bucks on Call of Duty™ and enjoy the thrills from your own couch - with Cheetos and Cokes?

Oh... equating millionaire hedge fund managers as "American heroes" on the same plane with actual soldiers risking their lives tends to help too...

Clara D. Pare
Clara D. Pare

Amen, one more reason why we shouldn't waste those willing to sacrifice themselves for our country in a meatgrinder like Afghanistan. http://Zap21.com

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

We've been "killing" kids that didn't need to die for ten years now in that part of the world...

Had a few more of the "rich and influential" had more relational "skin in the game", I seriously doubt we'd have sprinted so eagerly into that debacle.

But... when you don't have relatives being shipped home in bags (and don't really know anyone that does), it does tend to shield you from the reality... especially if you can get those inconvenient casket photos kept out of the papers...

Out of deference to the feelings of the families, of course... </sarcasm>

MrObvious
MrObvious

Amen, one more reason why we shouldn't waste those willing to sacrifice themselves for our country in a meatgrinder like Afghanistan. Thankfully we're out of Iraq.

rokinsteve
rokinsteve

Whatever your political party we need to get out of Afghanistan now.  Call your

congress person and leave a message.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,104 other followers