Michael's Dispatches

Bad Medicine



(Please Click on the Image for a Larger View)

The imagery from November 2004 does not show the power lines in the photo below.  I made the photo below from nearly the same angle as the image above.  So, the EOD soldiers on top of the truck are in the corner of the compound overlooking Pharmacy Road.  The soldiers are a few meters from where the yellow thumbtack denotes “Blown Vehicles.”

The EOD team is rigging this wall to blow part of it down.  On the other side of the wall are the two blown-up vehicles; one of the vehicles is British and the other is the trailer from a “jingo truck.”  The area surrounding the trucks is booby-trapped with explosives, and the vehicles also are booby-trapped.  So the goal is to blow down the wall and drag the vehicles off the road and into this compound.

These EOD soldiers wear a Rainbow patch and call themselves Team Rainbow, which of course seemed quite curious.

The wall is so thick and strong that Team Rainbow put about 200 pounds of plastic explosive in all the right places, then rolled out the wire.  The reader might be surprised to see what 200 pounds of high explosives does to the wall.

Team Rainbow and LtCol Thomson stayed up close, but I got behind the farthest vehicle because I have no pride in my courage.  Some people think this is crazy work, but I’m actually a safety fanatic.

When the enemy hears a detonation—which typically occurs many times per day—they wait for helicopters, knowing that if helicopters swoop in and land, they have achieved success.  Many of the enemy bombs in Sangin are detonated by command wire, while many others are pressure-activated and are simply improvised land mines.  The enemy often uses pressure cookers to make bombs, just as was done by the Maoists in Nepal.  In Nepal, the government began confiscating pressure cookers (which angered many people), and the government often shut down cell service (angering many people) because the Maoists used cell phones.  The Maoists won the war.  We are operating far smarter in Afghanistan.  Here it’s the enemy who actually shuts down cell towers—and this angers the people.  Also, the enemy bombs around here are killing a lot of innocent people, and this also angers the people.  Despite progress made by the Taliban, they alienate many people.

And so that’s all that 200lbs of high explosives, in perfect contact with the target, placed by experts, could do to this wall.  When soldiers come back from Afghanistan and say that the compounds are like fortresses, this is what they mean.  The electrical wires, which cannot be seen in the Google Earth imagery of 2004, got blown down.  The EOD soldiers wanted to avoid the live electrical wires.  EOD called the Royal Engineers to come up with a non-destructive solution to the wires.  Within minutes they thought of a solution.  The vehicle above cut a notch in the top of the far wall with his scooper.

He drove the scooper machine to the front and opened the wall to let a bigger truck inside.  The Engineers hooked webbing around the electrical wires, and using the winch on the big truck, pulled the wires up and draped them over the notch the scooper had cut.  EOD was back in business clearing Pharmacy Road.  In fact, the soldier who is driving the scooper is the same driver who got blown up on Pharmacy Road, and his blown up vehicle is one that they were about to drag into the compound.

It can be very rattling out here.  But they keep getting blown up and going, and the enemy is getting it worse.

Preparing plastic explosives in slivers of shade.  Iraqis thought our body armor was air conditioners, and thought we have “cold pills” to chill us out.  The soldiers carry far more weight than I do, and they work three times harder.  This heat is bad even for me, but much worse for them.  Often U.S. and British soldiers end up back at the hospital after they collapse, but in nearly all cases they come straight back to the fight.  There was a U.S. battalion in the 1st Infantry Division in Baquba, Iraq, who were constantly pumping IVs so they could outlast the enemy.

SSgt Schmid of the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (JFOD).  Dealing with hidden bombs made by pernicious enemies requires special people.  I asked Ssgt Schmid which wire he cuts when dealing with booby-traps—red wire, or the green?—SSgt Schmid just laughed and kept working.

The blown-up vehicles were dragged through the blown-up wall under the blown-down wires.

As the midday sun pounded down, the EOD soldiers continued to work in the heat.  LtCol Rob Thomson stayed out in the boiling sun with the men.  I retreated with some others to a cooler place that was halfway underground.  Most of us soon fell asleep as the EOD soldiers kept blasting, blasting, blasting.  They must have made dozens of explosions during the day and they never seemed to take a break.  None of them, nor LtCol Thomson, ever took even a minute of shade break with us.

After an afternoon of blasting, LtCol Rob Thomson headed to PB Wishtan, but my gear was back at Tangiers, where some ANA were preparing for a mission.

During the clearance, this soldier fell off a ladder.  He was all the way at the top, about fifteen feet high.  Luckily he was wearing his helmet because he said he also cracked his head.  His spirits were good but he seemed a little embarrassed for falling off, but accidents like this happen a lot.  Even when nobody is shooting, there are plentiful ways to get hurt out here.  In the background are two improvised cots where I slept the second night.  Just on the other side of the barrier, the Hescoes got hit some months ago by an RPG, as seen below.

RPGs are simple but enormously effective.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    KellyC · 12 years ago
    Here's some pics (I believe) from the memorial service for Daniel Wild, Mark Hale, Matthew Hatton, et. al. from the Times: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6799892.ece?slideshowPopup=true&articleId=6799892&sectionName=WorldAfghanistan
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CEP · 12 years ago
    It's been said that the first casualty of war is Truth. Thanks Michael for telling and showing us the Truth... the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your reports reflect the gritty reality of life in the field of combat and many in England and America depend on you while the major media in both our countries are caught up in the latest political scandal or shameless celebrity worship. But thank you most of all for bringing to light the brave and selfless sacrifices made by our British and American fighting forces. This is one Yank who is deeply grateful to the Brits for their willingness to stand with us in this terrible struggle. May God bless them! And may God hasten the day when wars will cease and our boys will come home. Until then Michael, may the power of God over-shadow you and keep you safe while you continue this most excellent work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CEP · 12 years ago
    Sorry...I should have included all the UK, not just England.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Truckie117 · 12 years ago
    I would like to tthank all the men of our Brothers of the 2 Rifles fosr SMASHING the Taliban.
    If Any Ever make it to NY visit any firehouse and tell your story you'll get a gerat meal.
    Thanks for sthe reports Mike any if you get to NY look me up. cainm@fdny.nyc.gov
    911 rolling around again and there will be a great memorial at Ground Zero.
    God Bless You All
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Deane · 12 years ago
    As an old Marine from Nam, I can only say i wish we had had some one there that would have told truth and not covered up what was really happening in our conflict there. As it was, we could not trust reporters, especailly Amercan newsmen to tell the story as we related to their questions. by the time it got home we were a sorry lot full of fear and had no way to win in that theatre, so we just clammed up and hoped that someone could get the story straight. My then wife was terrified by reports of bases were she knew I was operating out of being hit by horrendus firepower when all it was were a few sappers and maybe a dozen mortars and we were operational within hours. Then of cousre there was Walter Cronkite that gave the enemy the morale boost when he wrongly said we were totally defeated at Hue, when in actuality we defeated and destroyed the Vietcong, never to operate again. Only the NVA kept up the fight because of his statement and the anti-war element at home, the very same ones who now control our government. And here we are in a worldwide fight for survival with the radical islamics that have always been active since Mohammed. Politics as usual... The true nemesis of the fighting man put in harms way by the failed political whores
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Oldpilot · 12 years ago
    Axle said: “They only want to hear how sad we are.”

    Well, heck, if you read the NY Times and listen to CBS, it's all about the victimized troops on this side of the water as well.

    Great photos!

    Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken · 12 years ago
    Michael - thanks to our heroic troops and to you. The courageousness of all who have taken this battle to our enemies humbles me. Your dispatches and amazing photos provide reality and humanity to the horrors of this war. I pray that God protect you and all of our brave soldiers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Larry K · 12 years ago
    As an " trooper" from the Vietnam era, I applaud your type of reporting. It gives us Americans some good perspective about what its like to combat the narco and oil funded terrorism on its home ground. It really helps me get a feeling for the dedication of not only our troops, but our allies also. I commend them and you for brave service. Larry Kramer
  • This commment is unpublished.
    nell · 12 years ago
    One lone voice telling the truth - yours. I note your comment not to trust the voices from London and Washington . We don't. It just grieves me that our fantastic troops have to rely on the sorry specimens of gordon brown and bob ainsworth. They deserve better, much better. Stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CDC · 12 years ago
    Michael, may God bless you and all the troops; I appreciate everything that you're all doing. I pray you can continue with your work as it is invaluable. I enlighten people as often as possible. I work on an AF Base and see soldiers every day; we work with AF, Army, Guard, Marines and many others. We help prepare them for deployment and take care of them again upon their return. (I work at the base hospital here). Please keep your head down and stay safe. Again, God Bless you and all of the troops. Tell them there are many, many of us here who appreciate each and everyone of them; we do not take their fight in this war for granted; we know they put their lives on the line every day and we keep them in our thoughts and prayers all of the time. I cannot say enough about my appreciation for all the sacrifices. Does not matter if they are British, Australian, locals, we're all in this together and those of us here at home in the know realize that we wouldn't be able to continue in the fight without each other. thank goodness for those F15E Eagles and pilots and the chopper pilots and all the crews. Again, thank you all and God Bless you!

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pete Hartwick · 12 years ago

    I echo the comments concerning the singular, outstanding work you're doing. It's above reproach.
    Which is more than can be said for the people and what motivates them in the MoD and the abrupt cancellation of your embed status. Speculation about what caused it runs the gamut. It wasn't the Google Maps or the purported OpSec issues. You got too close to the root nerve: the MoD hasn't been doing its job for a long time and the situation there is beginning to show the soft spots. For instance, they MoD has not funded the necessary helicopter acquisition for the past 10 years. Now they're in a program of trying to do service extension life on the stuff that should have been replaced long ago.

    I suspect many of our UK friends are coming to terms with the same kind of fundamental failure that the so-called "Health Care Crisis" has triggered here in the US. It's not a disagreement over policy, or methods, or political party platforms. It's much more basic. In fact, fundamental to our so-called "representative" democratic form of government. We simply can no longer trust the political class, or any member of it, to do anything but look out for themselves. Even the apparent Good Guys let us down every day by not telling us the truth about what's going on, about who, specifically, is responsible for the failures -- all under the cover of having to "get along" in order to be effective.

    We simply can't trust them. Any of them. On any issue. For any reason. They're professional liars. We trusted them to go and represent us as best they could while the rest of us went about our lives. And while we were doing so, they hijacked "our" government and crafted every part of it to suit their own greedy purposes. Notice: the MoD decision wasn't about The Truth. But what else is there --- that's worth fighting and dying for?

    And we're all still trying to figure out what we're gong to have to do to get back our own government that's been stolen from us

    Our prayers are with you.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    ali stewart · 12 years ago
    the dedication, professionalism and sense of and performance of duty by our troops in Afghanistan with the utter incompetence, deceit and mendacity of their masters in their comfortable London lives. To appreciate what they do in such awful circumstances, which you vividly illustrate in your riveting reports is to realize how low, how utterly disgusting, how completely beyond contempt are the politicians who would send our young men and women into harm's way, ill equipped, undermanned, with flawed strategies and where the aggrandizement and stock of those same politicians is the only end-game.

    How good must they feel to be able to release a convicted Islamic mass murderer of 270 British and American souls on compassionate grounds or condone that act by not objecting, or encourage it with 'memoranda of understanding' with pariah, terrorist States over prisoner transfer agreements. How well they must feel they have served the British people by saving us the money required to buy our troops basic body Armour, camouflage kit, properly protective vehicles, helicopters and more helicopters. How righteous must they feel when pontificating about human rights for everyone and democracy for all and ubiquitous freedom from oppression. Great aspirations crafted for public consumption in glittering pantheons, safe for the protagonists to do battle with their enemies across those debating chambers.

    But there are other pantheons, burial grounds for our unsung heroes. 210 dead in Afghanistan, not one welcomed back to British soil by any politician. Marked only by a minute at PMQs, or a very brief mention on the six o'clock news these extraordinary people achieving the remarkable by the hour are our great inspiration. In their dieing and in their service they achieve everything that eludes their superiors- they live for their Country.

    Your posts have been illuminating, should be required reading for every individual of reading age in the UK. You have probably been one of the great proponents of UK/US relations, particularly in the US and we are grateful. You have been a valuable conduit for our troops' loved one's at home, so I really am appalled at the MOD's decision to pull your embed status. But you know it was not their decision. To suggest that their tactics were wrong on the drug trade, or that they were helicopter-light, or incredibly, to suggest that what the kids were doing was in any way exceptional just did not fit the politicians posture.

    So they sleep well in their comfortable beds while our AFs bake in the sun. They elegantly sidestep difficult questions while the troops dodge bullets. They do battle with their adversaries in comfortable tv studios while our young men and women live cheek by jowl with a ruthless enemy that would blow them up, stone them, slit their throats in an instant. How brave they are to advertise for yet more spin doctors at £70K pa to explain their policies while denying our fighting forces an absolute standard of protection.

    It is impossible to reconcile the different positions of the British Govn't. On the one hand we are fighting fundamentalism there, because if we were not we would be fighting it here, and we are releasing fundamentalist mass murderers on compassionate grounds because not to do so would be a victory for fundamentalism? Give me strength. But all this while the men and women on the ground are being shot, exploded, maimed, killed.

    I salute our troops. I laud you and your work. But at the same time I have utter revulsion for the politicians. That they can imagine that they have done a good day's work when another few coffins touch British soil, beggars belief. That they can sleep easy in their beds, knowing that with a few less diversity projects they could have saved a few lives takes me here: I hate these people with such a passion! No words can now describe my revulsion. Their talking heads are an affront to common decency; I cannot wait to be rid of them.

    There is no cost too high that is not justified by the the safety of our babies. Thank heaven our troops know this and heaven help us that our politicians do not. So long as we have a voice like yours we will be reminded of that. They may silence you now, but the message you have delivered is loud and clear, unmistakable in it's simplicity. When we need someone on our side, we would all have a sapper before a politician any-day.

    While the MSM continues to be so cozy with the politicians, you are a breath of fresh air. While they all but ignore the grief, suffering, sacrifice and honor of our troops and their families, loved ones, friends most of the population of this Country are beginning to understand. The people are repulsed by the politicians; they are reviled at large. Pretty soon they will have their just rewards. I hope our troops get theirs.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Wife of Ssgt Oz Schm · 12 years ago
    I love you honey I loved seeing you in your pics. Like a bear.

    Am sure your para/commando/high threat/being married to me the worst nightmare has made you strong enough to remember you can do anything you put your mind to sexyass. Keep your head. Cant wait to see you in November. Proud of you as ever.

    There maybe some richer bigger more decorated men in the world however I know what you do. Those men dont even almost get it - what it takes to do what and be close to who you are. Thats strength to me, real strength. Consistent loyalty and hard work is what you are. Thats rare hun unique even nowadys thats why I love you Schmid.

    Your job and my job (here with L and Bo and my work in hospital) means we really do live in the moment for so much of our lives hope we can for once live in the moment with eachother for a change soon.

    I am missing you it hurts and I get angry. All I can do in this passive disengaged country we call Britain is to be as English as I can be and respect you as much as I can while you are gone.

    WIFE X X X
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jayhawk · 12 years ago
    just wanted to say that you have done more to keep the main stream media from "vietnaming" this war than just about any
    journalist. i am a vietnam era vet and i remember how they did our vets and how we lost when we didnt before it was even over.
    the brits are a darn good bunch. i remember them from reforger in germany. keep up the good work..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Diabulos · 12 years ago
    I must say, this is what real journalism is about! well done! your photos are great and I love the colours. What camera are you using? and how do you kee the dust out of the lens!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ETJ · 12 years ago
    Michael - as a Brit, your website is the only source that gives me an indication of what our forces are doing and experiencing in Afghanistan. I cannot thank you enough, and I too am at a loss to understand MoD’s action. If it was OpSec, then a quiet word in your ear would sorted it ?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nina · 12 years ago
    Hey Michael..what a great job you did!As other said that is what journalism is really about!
    Dear military men and women Thank you and lots of hugs and do come home safe soon!
    Dear Afegan people wish you peace and prosperity.
    Michael xoxo to you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    chris oldfield · 12 years ago
    been to pharmacy road a few times, great to see that such a good writer has worked with 2 rifles as well as 4 rifles in Iraq, my respect for you as only got bigger as i have now read 2 articles that you have written that i have taken part in.

    Just for peoples imformation 'Team rainbow is a mick take of the old childrens TV show from England' i only know this becouse i know the man who made the name up for his team, Sgt shaun powell.

    Once again great job and a pleasure to read

    God bless
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JohnPlambert · 12 years ago
    French Mirages, and Rafale will be upgraded with standard US Rover system, tested by AdA this summer.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jon Wilson · 12 years ago
    My son is serving with C coy 2nd Rifles based at FOB Wishtan, without these pictures it would have been hard to imagine what his life has been like for the past 5 and a half months. As a parent/step parent you sometimes hold your breath when your kids are late home from school or lost in the shopping centre, after 5 and a half months of holding our breath our son is due home next week god willing (I don't actually believe in god, but I would try anything to get him home safe) I thank you for the despatches even though they have filled me with horror seeing how they live and work in those conditions but at least now when he tells of his experience's out there I will be able to put pictures to his stories and pretend that I understand how scared/hot/tired/homesick/angry/sad he was out there.

    I wish you the very best of luck Michael in your work/life and cannot express how grateful I and my family are !
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Darren Stewart · 12 years ago
    It was announced today that SSgt Schmid of the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (JFOD) (I believe) was killed in action, while on duty trying to deal with an UXB/IED.

    All our men and women serving out there are Hero's. Every last one of them. However, the men who tackle IEDs every single day are very special, and the words of his comrades spell this out better than I ever could.
    Christina Schmid, wife of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid said:

    "Oz was a phenomenal husband and loving father who was cruelly murdered on his last day of a relentless five month tour.

    "He was my best friend and soul mate. The pain of losing him is overwhelming. I take comfort knowing he saved countless lives with his hard work. I am so proud of him."
    ieutenant Col Robert Thomson, Commanding Officer 2 RIFLES Battle Group said:

    "SSgt Oz Schmid was simply the bravest and most courageous man I have ever met. Under relentless IED and small arms attacks he stood taller than the tallest. He opened the Pharmacy Road and 24 hrs later, found 1 IEDs in one go on route SPARTA. Every single Company in 2 RIFLES adored working with him.

    "I adored working with him. No matter how difficult or lethal the task which lay in front of us, he was the man who only saw solutions.

    "He saved lives in 2 RIFLES time after time and for that he will retain a very special place in every heart of every Rifleman in our extraordinary Battle Group. Superlatives do not do the man justice. Better than the best. Better than the best of the best. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beloved family."

    Today, a giant, legend and a hero of a man has fallen, may hell come to those responsible. Condolences to his family.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bomb Doctor · 12 years ago
    Oz's wife posted a message to him 8 posts earlier (see above)..... He was then killed on his last day in Theatre.

    This is truely a sad, sad event.

    RIP Oz.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joe Power · 12 years ago
    Oz was a superstar and a firm favourite in BG(N). A top bloke who will be sorely missed.

    RIP mate.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Malcolm Smith · 12 years ago
    RIP SSgt Schmid, and (FWIW at this time) my condolences to you Mrs Schmid.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Fraser Clay · 12 years ago
    Mrs. Schmid,
    I am sorry to hear of your loss. I cannot imagine what you must be feeling right now...you must know better then anyone how truly great your husband is. I will be praying for you and your family. Your sacrifice can never be repaid but please know there are many who are thinking about him.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    E. Dwyer · 12 years ago
    Belated kudos but sincerely felt- awesome work. Thank you. And God Bless.

    Emmett, Albuquerque NM
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Freemon Sandlewould · 12 years ago
    Legalize all dope. Profit margin goes to ZERO. Problem done.

    Think not?

    Think again. It helps weed the gene pool back here in the USA. No sense trying to pretect the self destructive from themselves. All the better to let them move on to wherever it is they are going in the end regardless of our clumsy efforts to the contrary.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve · 10 years ago
    Having gone through the "devils playground" myself, I know how hard it can be.... this atricle pretty much sums up the feeling of isolation, frustration, feeling like you're chasing ghosts, and the sense of trepidation in working in this environment. But also the sense of relief when stuff comes off good!!! Thanks for writing this.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kate.UK · 10 years ago
    Your picture of the soldier sleeping on his body armour is my brother! Couldn't believe it, but there he was, broke my heart a little to see that. The work your doing is extraordinary and in my opinion isn't as well known as it deserves to be. God Bless and stay safe (If that is even possible) Kate
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Debra. AU · 10 years ago
      Kate, I just read this story, and was equally touched by the picture of your brother as well as the story. Also I wanted to send a message of gratitude to your brother and all his military buddies for their service... from a grateful Australian. I hope him he got home safely and knows that people around the world know of, and appreciate the sacrifice he, his fellow soldiers, and their families make for our safety and freedom.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Simon Bereit · 10 years ago
    Some amazing photos which give us an insight into what life is like on the front line in Helmand. Full respect to you for being out there with true heroes. Keep up the great work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Debra, AU · 10 years ago
    Mrs Schmid and family... I know this is a rather belated comment, but please accent my condolences, for the tragedy your family is enduring. I cannot begin to imagine how supremely proud you must be of him, for the incredible work he did, and also, the immeasurable loss you must be feeling. If it is any small comfort, I hope you know that on behalf of all those who enjoy the life free of fear and uncertainty around the world that men like your husband, work to create for us, my family and I will always be grateful for your husband's service and sacrifice.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Samsara · 8 years ago
    Thank you for the article, it's transparently refreshing to read. Love the comment about how families only sympathize without going further to understand what these men do to make the world a safer place. Their stand makes all the difference everyday even when it doesn't feel or seem so :-)
    I'm in love with one & so proud of what his uniform stands for xxxxx SS
  • This commment is unpublished.
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