It’s hard to comprehend when you’re unemployed, but there are worse things than not getting hired. Like getting killed, for example! Now that would suck! But yes, it happens, and dealing with that is an everyday fact when you’re living and working in a war zone. Some people just don’t buy into the American dream of freedom, democracy, and cheap oil, and they’d like nothing more than to see your infidel blood flowing through their streets.
Let’s face it, overseas security contractors don’t get paid the money that they do because they’re fricking geniuses. I mean, security’s not brain surgery: you guard your building or your principal, you don’t sit down or fall asleep on the job, and if you’re bored out of your mind then you must be doing things right. No, the higher pay for private contractors is because of the risk involved with the work, and you’ve probably already noticed that salaries usually increase depending on the actual danger of your job. That’s why today I wanted to take a few minutes to briefly outline some of the risks that you’ll face when working in a war zone. If you’ve never been deployed before then please pay attention, and if you’re former military then feel free to call out my mistakes if I get some of this stuff wrong. (NOTE: Although I have been around a lot of bangs, booms, and pops, I am by no means an expert on this junk.)
IEDs- Short for Improvised Explosive Devices, which is basically a way of saying “homemade bomb”. You can pull up any number of IED explosion videos on the Youtube, but these are often set by the roadside with the goal of targeting passing vehicles or dismounted troops on foot patrol. IEDs can be triggered in several ways like with a line of detonation cord, a simple delay mechanism like a washing machine timer, or even remotely by radio or cell phones. The best way to protect yourself from a blast is to be nowhere near it, so always keep in mind your standoff distances and be on the lookout for a secondary explosive device nearby. Depending on the size of the explosion, there’s also a risk of suffering concussions or brain injury.
EFP- Short for Explosively Formed Projectile, also known as a shape charge. This is like an IED, but the main weapon is a copper disc positioned so that the initial blast forms a high-speed projectile that has a better chance of cutting through armored vehicles. An EFP encounter is much more likely to result in amputated limbs, so please don’t neglect your medical training and find out how to use a tourniquet. These are a little more complicated for the insurgents to set up, since getting the aiming point right is critical if they want to cause maximum damage. That’s why if you see anyone putting battle damage photos up on their Facebook or Myspace pages, do me a favor and please ask them to take them down. Bomb-makers can browse the Internet and use these images to target the weakest parts of your vehicle’s armor in future attacks.
VBIED- Short for Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device, most commonly a car bomb. VBIEDs are a way for terrorists to carry a big load of explosives and move them quickly towards a target. Depending on the size of the explosive material, a VBIED might be big enough to take down an entire building if it’s parked in the right spot, like in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. VBIEDs might be left in crowded places like a market if the goal is to cause maximum civilian casualties, or left along the side of the road to target passing convoys.
SVBIED- short for Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device, or a car bomb that detonates with the driver inside instead of him parking and walking away first. SVBIEDS have been used to attack both buildings and public places, and some have even targeted armored convoys by driving straight into the trucks. Don’t get stuck into thinking that SVBIEDS are always going to be cars, either: I’ve heard of bicycle bombs, and I’ve even seen the aftermath of a moped bomb that went off in a crowded marketplace.
Suicide bombers- If these guys have an acronym, I don’t know what it is. Basically this is a dude who carries an explosive vest or belt beneath his clothing, then detonates it with the goal of causing maximum damage to a crowd or a specific person. This category of bombers includes both the religious nuts looking to martyr themselves, and also people who get tricked into carrying packages with bombs inside. For a while there in Iraq, Al-Qaeda was using mentally retarded people as suicide bombers by arming them up and then remotely detonating the devices.
Indirect Fire- This can be either rockets, mortars, or artillery, but it’s basically any weapon that isn’t aimed straight at the target. Things like mortars are very hard to protect against since they can be set up quickly and fired from a safe distance. Usually, the attackers have time to leave the area before a counterattack can be launched. Indirect fire is one of the biggest dangers for the “inside the wire” types who don’t ever leave camp, since these attacks can impact anywhere. It’s possible that a round could strike your living quarters or a chow hall, places where you might otherwise let down your guard. Even if you spend most of your time on camp, you should still try to take advantage of defensive measures like sandbags and blast walls whenever possible. Also, know where the nearest mass casualty kit is, and get familiar with both the local “incoming” procedures, to include knowing where you should report following an attack.
Small Arms Fire- Nothing but bullets, dude, but keep in mind that this can include both sniper fire, direct attacks, and also indirect fire. I’ve heard of a tactic where an attacker will drive a moped up alongside the base’s outer wall, unload a magazine up into the air and then take off, hoping that the bullets will fall down inside and hit someone. Small arms fire might not even be part of an intentional attack. If you’ve never heard of celebratory gunfire, keep in mind that one of the most dangerous times in a third-world country can be when the home team has just won a soccer match!
Look, this isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list, but I did want to at least mention a couple of the most common threats for people who might not be aware of them. I’ll be honest, five years ago I didn’t know the difference between and IED and an IUD until an instructor broke it down for me, so I’m hoping to return the favor here. And I always welcome comments on any posts, but for this topic in particular I’m rolling out the red carpet. Anyone who’s got anything to contribute, don’t hold back, even if I messed something up and you need to call me out. Adding your two cents might only take a minute, but it could save someone’s life.