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Shahanshah Aryameher


Iranian Freedom Fighters UNITE

Friday, July 20, 2007

“I think I have a bubble around me,” he joked. “Somebody likes me.”

Texan takes on the roadside bombers

A young sergeant is leading the fight against improvised explosive devices, the biggest killer facing American forces in Iraq . The flattened cardboard box in the middle of the road was supposed to look like any other piece of rubbish in this hostile Baghdad neighbourhood, but Staff Sergeant Gabriel Temples sensed that something was wrong. Edging forwards, the 23-year-old from Texas prodded the package and peered inside. Wrapped in tape was a lump of explosive rigged to a mobile phone, ready to detonate the moment that someone called the number.

Sergeant Temples raced over to his Humvee to radio the news back to base, further enhancing his reputation as the US military’s best locator of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq.
Such bombs – buried in the asphalt, hidden inside the carcass of a dead animal or attached to a wire threaded through a stick of bamboo – are the biggest killers of American troops as insurgents use guerrilla tactics. The IEDs, designed to blend in with their surroundings, wreak terrible damage on passing US convoys. “It is really the only way they can inflict casualties on us in any large number,” said Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, which operates in Doura, a rundown area of south Baghdad, and the surrounding Rashid district. “They can’t beat us . . . so they go for the big boom.” The US military is strengthening the armour on its vehicles and devising new technologies to deactivate the bombs. But by far its most effective defence are the techniques developed by soldiers themselves to spot and disarm the devices by hand. Calm, fair-haired and named after an archangel, Sergeant Temples looks an unlikely answer to the deadly problem. But this year alone he has found more than 30 – a tally said by colleagues to be the highest of any US soldier since the invasion.
“I use my imagination and pay attention to my surroundings,” he told The Times when asked for the secret of his success. “Also, I am always trying to figure out what they [the insurgents] are up to and what they are thinking.” Watching the agile young man in action in northern Doura – a Sunni enclave said by the US military to be al-Qaeda’s hub in Baghdad – is the best way to appreciate his talent. Leading a team of about a dozen soldiers in three Humvees this week, Sergeant Temples navigated his way around a grim network of roads overflowing with sewage and pitted with craters from past roadside blasts. The team planned to visit a series of possible IED sites, identified by the public through a growing stream of genuine and hoax calls to a tip-off line or highlighted as suspicious by an earlier patrol. As the vehicles stop in the middle of a street lined with shabby houses, the tension is high. The men silently dismount and fan out, guns poised, eyes scanning the ground for any object with wires sticking out of it. “Whenever you begin you have that sense of uneasiness, but once you start finding them [IEDs] and not getting blown up, you feel better,” Sergeant Temples said. Sensing that his men were searching in the wrong place he knocked on the door of a nearby house to ask for help. Since US forces increased their presence in Doura, as part of President Bush’s troop surge to improve security in and around Baghdad, locals who have tired of insurgents in their area have begun to share information with the Americans. Minutes later, with guidance from the homeowner, Sergeant Temples located the rigged cardboard box in the middle of a road next to an abandoned school and radioed the bomb disposal squad. Born into a military family – his father and mother served in the armed forces – Sergeant Temples grew up in a small town in Texas wanting to become a soldier, and enlisted at 18. It was not until his second tour in Iraq that he realised he had a bomb-finding talent. Naturally modest, he said that his success was due to the men he worked with at Baker Company, itself regarded as one of the best units at finding IEDs. All the same, his skills are universally admired. “He has a nose for explosives,” said one soldier. An officer, Lieutenant Scott Flanigan, praised Sergeant Temples and his fellow bomb hunter, Staff Sergeant Travis Platt. “There is no telling how many casualties they prevented,” he said. The search is never 100 per cent successful and Baker Company has paid a high price for its efforts. It lost five soldiers last month when two huge IEDs buried deep in the road exploded on their convoy. Six men in the 130-strong company have died – all from IEDs – while 53 Purple Hearts, an award for being wounded in action, have been given since the unit’s return to Iraq in October. Almost everyone has been caught in an explosion, making each new excursion from their headquarters on Forward Operating Base Falcon a test of nerves. Many carry lucky trinkets and say a prayer before going out. Sergeant Temples, however, feels that he is his own lucky charm. He is one of the very few in Baker Company, so far, to have avoided hitting a bomb. “I think I have a bubble around me,” he joked. “Somebody likes me.”

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