Sapper Dayne Thomas
2CER, Task Force 1-10
Royal Canadian Engineers
Dayne and I got to know each other through our mutual love of militaria and history. Dayne was gracious enough to share some of his experiences with me from his time overseas with the Royal Canadian Engineers and I am proud to call him a friend.
One day he sent me a small collection of patches from when he was in. They are a great set representing both camouflage types and his overseas unit, 2 Canadian Engineer Regiment, Royal Canadian Engineers, Task Force 1-10 (The 10 stands for 2010). Along with these patches he sent me a pile of photos and a small story he penned about his time in Afghanistan, I shall let him take the story from here.
The Longest Day
By Sapper Dayne Thomas
It has been approximately 10 years ago now, that I embarked on the greatest, most thrilling adventure of my life. That adventure was a deployment to the heart of Taliban territory, Panjwai district, Kandahar, Afghanistan. There were several instances, from the moment I landed, that I found myself in peril. But today I will focus on the closest I came to my demise.
“Lead vehicle Stop! Stop! Stop!” Chattered over the radio. The lead vehicle in our convoy came to a halt, and all ensuing vehicles followed suit. “We have a hit!” said the VPS (Vulnerable Search Point) ground commander.
They were the team of seven responsible for dismounting, and searching the roadsides, culverts, and surrounding terrain for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), and anything else suspect, or unusual. One of the team members got a hit with his metal detector big enough to cause concern. Upon further evaluation of the surrounding area, wires were found protruding from the peach colored dust that composed of t average terrain we dealt with daily. I was just a Sapper at the time, the equivalent of a Private, but as engineers are our special own breed, we call for our special own rank.
I watched what was going on from my position in the third vehicle as a C6 Heavy Machine gunner, one of three mounted to our vehicle. Mine facing the right hand side of the road, and my colleague and fire team partner, Sapper Clarke to my rear facing out to the other side, the third being remotely operated from our Crew Commander inside. Although what was happening was unravelling NNW of the front of the vehicle, and my eyes should have been on my own designated arcs of fire to watch for any threats, curiosity got the better of me from time to time.
“Sir, we have what we believe to be a pressure plate buried underground, with wires visible protruding through parts of the dirt leading off to that compound. Type of explosives unknown at this time. How would you like us to proceed?” crackled over the radio from the VPS commander.
“Pull your men back, watch your steps, and mount back up. I’m not losing any of you today. This will be a job for the guys who get paid extra to blow up if they’re wrong. I’m calling in EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)” crackled back our convoy commander.
The EOD team is a special batch of guys who have extra training on how to identify, disarm, pull forensics if possible, and ultimately dispose of explosives with minimum collateral damage. Three hours went by keeping the area secured in a strategic cordon we set up using our vehicles by pulling slightly off the road on a 45 degree angle. It was now around noon. The day became longer sitting directly under the sun, in full fighting order, with the temperature reading 45 Degrees Celsius.
The road we found ourselves stuck on that day was one of the most dangerous roads in all of Kandahar, dubbed ‘Hyena Road’. More IEDs were found on that stretch of road than anywhere else in our district, and civilians started getting upset that they couldn't pass around us on that road until we had cleared it. I had to fire a couple flares in the direction of the few who dared try to pass us on the outside, or through our cordon. It was for their safety, and our own. Our convoy commander finally came over the radio
“Well boys, be prepared to be out here for a while. Command failed to mention to me before we rolled out that our fucking EOD team is on their 2 week fucking vacation! We have an American EOD attached to us in the meantime. They’re rolling their asses out of their cots now and they’ll be here when they get here, but they’re coming here all the way from the American AO. Standby to standby!”.
Great! I’m thinking, as I take a sip of my last bottle of ice water. Two hours, and two bottles downed of warm water later, Clarke lifted his head up from resting on the butt of his mounted machine gun “Fucking finally!” as the Americans rolled up on scene like the cowboys they thought they were. Far from disciplined as our team would have been, they dismounted their vehicle with no care in the world as to where they stepped. I saw them briefly chat with our VPS commander, getting all the details from our VPS team as to what they saw.
The Americans decided to unload one of their bomb bots from their vehicle, a specialized radio controlled robot with cameras designed to roll up on an IED and give the controller an idea of what they’re dealing with without putting anyone at risk. It is equipped with arms, and claws that are able to manipulate its surroundings. The robot rolls out at its fastest speed of a whole 1.2 KP/H to its destination of approximately 60 meters away. With a total of 6 hours now baking in the sun, drinking warm water to stay hydrated, it was like watching grass grow. After about 15 minutes, we saw the American controller dismount his vehicle. He followed in the tracks his robot made in order to not step on any untouched earth that hadn’t yet been searched. Five minutes later he returned, holding some wires and a wooden board with nails hammered in it in order to set off the metal detector.
“It was a hoax device fellas. You can relax a bit, but stay vigilant! Where there's a hoax, there's often a real device.” Our convoy commander passed on to us through our radio means, which of course we were aware of from our countless hours of training back on Canadian soil. As I continued to monitor my arcs of fire, I still can’t help but catch glimpses of what’s going on on the other side of the road. I watched as the American mounted back up in his vehicle so that he could guide his bot back to him. The bot came from around the mud wall of the compound when all of a sudden “BOOM!” as pieces of it blasted all over the area of operations.
One such piece had blown right in between Sapper Clarke’s and my head, leaving a smokey trail between us. With jaws dropped our eyes locked through the haze... “Holy fuck!” Clarke screamed, as I was screaming my own profanities, and checking myself over to make sure I hadn’t been hit anywhere.
The American had unknowingly guided his robot right over the actual IED that was planted in the ground which was meant to blow our VPS team up as they investigated the hoax. The same IED that the American walked right past twice. Had we had our own team there that day, I’m sure we would have found both. The adrenaline hadn’t even left my body when I heard Clarke say “That’s going on the wall.” as he jumped out of the back of the vehicle before I could even say anything, in order to retrieve the piece that moments ago had nearly decapitated one of us.
“Should we radio up and tell them what almost just happened?” He asked? “Nah, what's the point. We’ll tell them later. We’re ok, and they’ve got their hands full now. Plus they probably won’t even believe us until you show them that piece you have there.” I joked.
After we secured the scene, and cleared the area of any other threats, we arrived back at our Forward Operating Base at Masum Gahr about an hour later. Home Base. Time to debrief, and have our section After Action Report. Clarke took the floor, being the avid storyteller, and comedian he was and told our events of the day, which met a few rolling eyes, as he was known to exaggerate. He finished off by pulling the piece of robot out from his pack, and placing it on our wall of trophies. That seemed to dissuade any further doubt from our peers, and gave us that bit of extra street credit.
That concludes the longest day of my life.
Patches, a great set.
Ready for war.
The Reefer! Madness!
A heavy Chinook.
Lest We Forget.
Water, always Water.
Out for a stroll ?
BlackHawk lift off!
A break in the Shade.
Pop the Hatch.
Lock N Load!
Chatting with the locals.
Out on Patrol.
Morale support officer!
The following are a few remarks on his time overseas which I have recorded for posterity.
Funny story about the water. They brought them in on a pallet and stacked cases probably 8 stacks high. Depending on what vehicle I was assigned to that day in EROC, we either had a cooler that we put pre frozen bottles in or ripped the AC vent covers out of the cougar and Buffalo and stuffed them in! We also used to fill them up the nestle 2 in 1 coffees to give us sugars and energy.
Being stuck as a c6 gunner on top of the cougars sucked because not only did you sit on what was basically a wooden swing seat, but Canada cheaped out and didn't buy us electronic turrets. So if we needed to point in a general direction, we had to crank it the direction we wanted to point at. Imperative seconds if it came down to it.