Soldiers gain confidence in protective gear after they walk away from attack
May 2, 2009
BAGHDAD - Two deafening booms followed bright, orange flashes. The Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle shook violently. Smoke engulfed the vehicle inside and out. The engineers traveling inside the MRAP in western Baghdad, April 25, knew they had just been attacked with two RKG-3 anti-tank grenades, but that wasn't all they knew.
"I pretty much knew it was over with, we got hit and braced for impact," said Staff Sgt. Scott Daigrepont, the personal security detail noncommissioned officer in charge assigned to the Headquarters Support Company, 46th Engineer Battalion, 225th Engineer Brigade. "I'm tremendously surprised it didn't breech," the Baton Rouge, La. native continued. "The armor and the glass are the only reasons we're alive, I guarantee it."
The 46th Eng. Bn. Soldiers survived the insurgent attack because of the heavily-armored MRAP and also because they were wearing the right personal protective equipment or PPE.
"It was a really loud metallic ding and a really big boom. The concussion felt like somebody kicked me in the chest," said Spc. James Belcher, the turret gunner from Paducah, Ky., also assigned to HSC, 46th Eng. Bn., 225th Eng. Bde. "All the glass on the right side flew up and over into the turret. The only thing that kept it from putting my eye out was my eyewear."
It wasn't a coincidence Belcher was wearing his eye protection; PPE is a ritual for these engineers.
"We check our [ballistic armor] plates to make sure the lot numbers aren't defective, the gunner's harness to keep you in the turret so you don't get thrown out, eyewear 'cause you don't want large scratches to make it defective, your Kevlar 'cause there are a few out there that are defective; and gloves because of burns and the heat of the metal on your weapon," explained Belcher from behind his dark eye protection that stopped shrapnel just a few days prior while on mission.
Before every mission, the engineers check each other during pre-combat and inspections, enforcing safety standards.
"Though we sit there and cry and complain about [PPE] everyday...when you need it and it comes down to it, this is why the commander says to wear it," admitted Belcher. "We wear all this equipment for a reason, but you don't see it until you need it!" he added while smiling and adjusting his eyewear. "If I didn't have these, I'd have one eye right now, I'd be blind...it'd be a hell of a way to let down your team."
For these Soldiers, letting down their team and not accomplishing the mission is unthinkable.
"Considering we were hit twice and the damage to the vehicle, it could have been a mobility kill," stated Sgt. Michael Starkey, a personal security detail driver from Spokane, Wash., assigned to the 277th Eng. Co. attached to HSC, 46th Eng. Bn., 225th Eng. Bde. Instead, the engineers had a mission to accomplish and continued on for the next seven hours.
"We were still mission capable after all that," he continued. "I kept checking the gauges and they were good. We had seven people in that vehicle and we're all here to talk about it, so I'd say [the MRAP] is worth every tax dollar!"
"It's like the NCO creed says, 'My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind - accomplishment of the mission and the welfare of my Soldiers,'" said Belcher about why they didn't just return to base with their damaged MRAP.
"It gives you a lot more confidence in your equipment," added Tacoma, Wash. native, Sgt. Troy Bannister, a personal security detail mechanic assigned to the 227th Eng. Co. attached to HSC, 46th Eng. Bn., 225th Eng. Bde., with a serious look. "You perform your job better when you have confidence in your equipment."
The 46th engineers survived an RKG-3 antitank grenade attack because they did the right thing, used the right equipment and had the right attitude. It is an important lesson that these engineers take to heart.
Daigrepont explained, "I got seven grateful guys that have lived through a hellacious attack!"