Quora Question: What Is It Like to Get Hit by an IED?

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A U.S. soldier with the 2nd Platoon Charlie Troop, 3rd Squadron of 61st Cavalry Regiment takes cover during the controlled detonation of an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

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Answer from Tymon Kapelski, four years Combat Arms, four years Intel.

I did convoy security as a .50 gunner for about a year in Iraq in '05-'06. My convoy was hit with many IEDs, but close calls were few and far between. There are three events that really stand out in my mind that I'm willing to talk about, one where I was hit, one where another gun truck was hit, and one where another convoy (directly next to me) was hit. They all feel wildly different. First, some background. I deployed as a battery element, this is not the norm. We were 142 people that convoyed together, at minimum one mission a day/night. We slept in/on our trucks for days on occasion, and we were an extremely tight knit group. We only had about six or seven gunners though, and that wasn't a job everyone wanted because you were exposed all the time, so we never got nights off and we were fiercely protective of everyone.

The other convoy:

Well into my tour while rolling down the road in a Humvee (HMMWV), eating a mostly melted Kit-Kat and minding my own business...I saw a flash to the front and left of me on the other side of a passing fuel tanker in a convoy going the other direction. The tanker was entirely ripped open and a good deal of the fuel caught fire in the air and blossomed orange. My initial thought (in deployment language) was, "Jesus, that's fucking beautiful! And I'm fucking alive! This wind feels amazing! This is the most delicious Kit-Kat I've ever fucking eaten!!" Odd thoughts, I know. My TC (truck commander) who was also my LT (lieutenant) was feverishly reaching back, trying to pull me down into the truck. A few seconds later my truck was hit with a torrential downfall of extraordinarily hot diesel fuel, and I was entirely soaked. Diesel in my eyes, mouth, ears, and nose. I rode like that for hours with burning eyes and skin and a splitting headache. I never did think about the guy in the other convoy that got hit, I just knew it wasn't us and that's what I cared about. My LT said that was the first time anything there felt real. Total time, maybe 15 seconds.

My truck:

I don't remember this one so well. I was lead gun truck (LMTV) and I saw a flash, the next thing I remember is being slumped down in the cab with my TC getting all handsy with me, checking to make sure there were no new holes in me and slapping me awake. The ringing you hear in movies is real, except it never fades away like in the movies. I have no idea how long I was out, I'm pretty sure it was only a couple seconds but it seemed like an eternity; climbing back to my machine gun seemed like an eternity too, because I couldn't feel my arms or hands and my legs were all rubbery. I could hear people yelling over my headset but I'm not sure what they were saying. I just knew I had to get back to my gun. What if this was an ambush? What if there were more bombs that I could find? My Battles needed me and I HAD to get back on that gun. My ears randomly bled for a week or so afterwards and I'd randomly fall over while standing still. Total time, maybe 20 seconds.

Ballistic glass we installed around our turrets saved my life that day, although my memory, word association, and ability to maintain a meaningful relationship all suffered a swift death. But hey, I got a coin out of it, so I've got that going for me, which is cool.... My look says it all.

Our truck variety

The swap:

I remember this one. There is nothing in this world more terrifying than watching your friends get blown up. It's got nothing to do with the possibility of you being hurt, it's whether they're hurt or alive or dead. Every gunner feels a tremendous sense of guilt any time someone gets hurt; we rotated out of trucks pretty regularly and hated leaving a dangerous position for a less dangerous one. No one wanted to give their friend a dangerous job, but the guys coming in to it want it because they want their friends to be safer. It's always about the other guy, you always put yourself last and everyone else first.

Lead and rear gunners have a lot of stress--it seems like everyone is trying to kill you so they can start killing the rest of the convoy blocked in by or turning around to get your dead truck. I had just rotated out of the lead gun truck, and it got hit hard. Our guys got hurt, and nothing in that world can send you over the edge like Battles getting hurt. It'll make you have a good old fashioned come-apart. The truck had holes punched straight through, armor and everything. It immediately started burning and everyone was trying to bail, the TC door was jammed shut and they had to drag him out due to his injuries.

The convoy kept moving as the truck burned with the guys hunkered down next to it. The second gun truck took lead, the third gun truck stopped and everyone dove in with whatever gear they were able to pull from the burning truck, and the rear truck pulled security for everyone moving on the ground. Total time, a fucking eternity (but probably less than two minutes), it was awful, horrible. I think about it and some other events like it and worse every day. I dream about it and lose sleep about it. I spiral out of control about it. I hear music that was playing when these things happened and suddenly I'm back in Iraq screaming.

That's what was left of the cab

I'll let you draw your own conclusions, but my short answer is that it's far, far better to be hit with an IED than it is to see your pals be hit with them. Yeah my life is pretty jacked up because I can't remember where I am most days, and I search for hours for things I'm holding in my hand, but the thought of my friends going through that is far more painful to me than having to go through it myself. You're all brothers there, and it'll never change no matter how much time goes by.

Here are a few more examples of near misses.

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Quora Question: What Is It Like to Get Hit by an IED? | World