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Minnesota National Guard
Crew strikes one bomb, uncovers another

by Mike Gainor, Kanabec County Times
Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012 4:05 pm

Many convoys escorted through Iraq by the Minnesota National Guard were struck by roadside bombs, but few encountered what one Pine City unit did on Oct 31: not one but two bombs in the course of an hour

The three-man crew was in the armored scout truck of the southbound convoy, ranging ahead of the rest of the trucks to spot threats and - if necessary - absorb the blast of a bomb while the rest of the convoy remained safely behind

Sgt Fernando Sanchez was the driver of the vehicle, on his fourth deployment - his third in Iraq As they were entering an area in northern Baghdad considered an elevated threat zone, he and the gunner, Spc Andrew Denofre of Mora and the truck commander, 2nd Lt Paul Modeen, spotted an Iraqi Army soldier by the side of the road giving them a hand signal

"At one point it looked like he was telling us, "˜Hi,' and at another point it looked like he was telling us "˜Get down,' and I thought that was kind of odd," Sanchez said "(Denofre) was all excited, saying, "˜Look, they're being nice to us They're waving at us' And I was joking around saying, "˜They're not waving at you, they're saying "˜Goodbye - you're going to get hit'"

Just then, Sanchez noticed something unusual about the road, and was pointing it out to the other members of the crew

"At the same point, the Iraqi Police were pointing us off to the right," Sanchez said "And I said, "˜Careful, something might happen'"

From the gunner's turret, Denofre reported seeing two men with backpacks

"Right when we looked, that's when the explosion happened," Sanchez said

The bomb blast rocked the truck

"It was a major explosion," explained Modeen "We could see the flame, we could feel the vibration, and we could hear how loud the explosion was"

Denofre dropped down from his exposed position in the turret back into the truck This was his first deployment, and his first experience of being attacked

"Initially, it kind of scares the c--- out of you," said Denofre "You don't know what just happened

"At that point, I started laughing," Sanchez said "The blast came, and it was over, and I said "˜Denofre, are you OK?'"

Denofre was checking himself He hadn't been hit

"I was good to go," Denofre said

Denofre started to go back up into the turret, but Modeen and Sanchez stopped him They were still in danger of an ambush or another bomb blast to follow up on the first

"I pulled him right back down," Sanchez said There were concrete T-barriers all around them "We were kind of tunneled in So that was my main concern, seeing that he wouldn't get hit again by an IED on top," Sanchez said

"Our training kicked in," Modeen said "It was weird, because I think for the first 10 minutes there wasn't any thought We just kind of started spitting out everything we had ever learned Each did their job, and they did them very well, again, without having to think about it"

They were asked if they needed to pull over Everything in the truck looked good at first But before long it was clear that one of the reinforced tires needed to be replaced After driving a short distance clear of the first blast zone, they pulled over

"That first incident made us hypersensitive," Modeen said "(Denofre) was focused in on everything, and everything made us extra vigilant"

Denofre was scanning the area around the truck as a crew came up to change out the tire

"Any time you're going to stop the vehicle you're going to make sure that the area is clear around the vehicle of foreign debris, (bomb) identifiers, just making sure there's no threat in the immediate area," he explained

Denofre spotted a piece of debris on the road up ahead Then, looking through his thermal scope up at the wood line, he noticed one individual in the trees The individual eventually moved beyond the range of Denofre's sight, but it left him with a bad feeling

They started moving forward The truck was rolling around 15 miles per hour toward the debris in the middle of the road

"It started to stick out a little bit more," Sanchez said

Then Denofre saw a metallic glint on the roadway It was a wire leading from the debris to the side of the road He shouted to Sanchez to stop the truck

"I halted right away," Sanchez said "I didn't see (the wire), so I didn't know if he was just nervous But then I started to shine my light back and forth and I saw it And I was like, "˜Oh c---'"

They called up the convoy escort team leader to verify what they had seen There was no doubt - it was a wire They made the call in to bring in air support for the now stationary convoy and summon the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit

"The longest wait of that was waiting for EOD to show up," Sanchez said He said the EOD crew was skeptical at first that it was a real bomb - there had been hoax bombs left in the area

But once the EOD inspected it, they could see this was the real thing

"They were like, "˜Whoa! Get back," said Sanchez

"They followed the wire pretty much up to the exact spot where I had seen the guy in the trees," Denofre noted

With the convoy pulled back, the EOD crew carried out a controlled detonation of the bomb

"I didn't see much of it, I just heard it," Denofre said "Just a loud boom"

With the roadway now secure, they were able to continue on their long push down south - another 12 hours of driving before they reached Camp Adder in southern Iraq

But it was that one hour, and the two bombs, that the crew would not be likely to forget

"You never know how you're going to react until you experience it," said Modeen "It was a pretty powerful experience As you can imagine, when we got to the next base we slept for a long time to recover from that"

"It was a life-changing experience," Denofre said "I don't even know how to put it into words"

"The whole way I was laughing, thinking about it," Sanchez said "That night was Halloween and that night we got our trick It was a good run"

It also made the eight-year National Guard veteran glad he was there

"There was a point where I almost didn't get on this deployment," Sanchez said "I spoke to my wife, and said that the main purpose was to help get everybody else out of here I told her that I don't know them, but I love them They're my brothers in arms, and I really needed her support on this and I wasn't just doing this for myself, I was doing it for everybody else I felt that if I didn't come and do my part, that everybody else before me who came and did their part would have died in vain

"I'm glad it's finally over," he added "So far we've been blessed I hope that everybody else who comes out with us gets back safe and I hope to see my family soon"

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