What it's like to avoid Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)
As an Army Infantry Squad Leader in the National Guard, Michael Smith spent hours on patrol in Afghanistan. He details the tactics and tense moments in avoiding the explosives commonly set as traps for military personnel.
By Joan Goodchild , Senior Editor
November 22, 2010 — CSO —
In a military career that spanned almost two decades, Michael Smith worked in defense communications as a Russian linguist and was assigned to war-torn countries. He was in intelligence for several years, and after his active duty he joined the Army National Guard and was an Infantry Squad Leader for more than six years. While serving in the National Guard in 2004, he was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and spent countless hours on patrol in treacherous parts of the country where locals weren't always friendly, and hidden bombs were a constant threat.
Smith is currently Akamai's security evangelist and helps customers understand both the internal security program and Akamai's product-security features. He believes his time in Afghanistan served as great training for his current infosec career.
"There's lots of relation to risk management. It was about understanding the threat: What the threat is doing, how it's changing and how you need to change what you are doing based on that," Smith says.
Smith shares some of the details of his time in Afghanistan, where he woke up each day knowing that danger—and even death—could be waiting around any corner.
CSO: When you set out on patrol, what was the goal?
Michael Smith: It depends on what your area and mission is. You set up different goals for what you want to do.
I may want to go to a certain village where we promised the kids a soccer ball and take them a soccer ball. Then we might go to the next village and try and find a certain person whose name is on a list of potential members of the Taliban or similar Taliban-affiliated groups. We might go to a gap in the mountain where we know traffic is funneled through and set up a checkpoint to see if there are guns going through. We might do something with local police. We might bring school supplies to a local village. We might just do village assessments because it's a place we haven't been before. It runs the gamut.
How often were IEDs a concern?
All the time.
Let me preface by explaining that "IED" stands for "improvised explosive device." They exist because the locals won't shoot at us because we have pretty big guns. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and left in 1989. Since then, everyone has forgotten how to aim. Looking at it from a risk perspective for them, it's too high a risk to shoot at us because we have the better guns. If they decide we are going to shoot at each other, we are obviously going to win.
What they do instead is go out and build bombs in a place where they think you will come by. So the roads were always bad for us. They'd set them up in places where they would predict we would be, and then, when we come by, set them off.
What was it like for you each time you set out knowing that this danger was out there? What went through your head?