Why This Woman Has One Of The Most Dangerous Jobs On The Front Lines

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Photo: DVIDS/Brendan Mackie

Deployed overseas amid the war in Afghanistan, troops take care of jobs that few of us would ever volunteer for.Staff Sgt. Kendall Reed has one of those jobs.

Originally from a sleepy little town in Oregon called Scrappoose, she’s now in Afghanistan with the 630th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company.

As the story often goes, insurgents build bombs and bury them alongside roads, just waiting for troops on foot patrol — or a vehicle — to pass over top and detonate a blast.

These homemade bombs, or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), are a leading cause of death among NATO troops in Afghanistan. 

And if the blasts don’t kill, they maim with devastation — sending service members home with life-altering injuries, or amputations, and unimaginable trauma.

Reed goes looking for these bombs.

Clearing cache sites and disrupting insurgent supply routes, it’s not uncommon for her to venture into a cave or a booby-trapped house looking for the deadly tell-tale signs of an explosive device nearby.

Like many American troops, she bears a ton of responsibility for a young adult. It was only her 25th birthday last week.

An Army report describes “just another day” for Reed and her comrades, who are normally stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. 

[She was] searching for components of improvised explosive devices in a small cave located just east of the village of Yaro Kalay. Moments later, she heard that two anti-personnel mines were found by the Afghan Border Police (ABP) in a nearby abandoned house. To the north, further clearance uncovered two directional fragmentation charges hidden along a crumbling wall.

The ABP often call upon her team to double-check their discoveries.

“I’ll go off one of their tips any day, because they know the people,” she explained. 

“They know where the IEDs have been emplaced in the past. Chances are that’s where they’ll be in the future.”

If bomb materials are found, they’re bagged and photographed, then sent away for examination. But sometimes Reed has to make a different call.

Explosive Ordnance DisposalThe ruins of the abandoned house

Photo: DVIDS/Brendan Mackie

“The ABP notified us that they found some landmines inside one of the houses that they were clearing, so we went in and verified it,” she said about an operation last week.”After discovering the landmines, we found two 20-liter jugs, which is about 80lbs of explosives.”

The explosive materials were in the form of ammonium nitrate and aluminium, a homemade concoction. 

Reed said that one of the jugs was already hooked up with a detonation cord, which could have been an anti-tamper booby trap designed to kill anyone who tries to mess with the supply.

There’s one way around that — blow the whole cache up.

“After we got the approval from the ABP that they didn’t want the house even standing anymore – because it was a ‘bad guy’ house – we placed our C4 [explosive] down and rolled it out,” said Reed.

A controlled detonation can be a bit of a thrill for the Afghan police.

“The head of the ABP, Ataullah – since he was the guy that pointed it out – we allowed him to pull the shot to initiate it. He was very excited about that.”

The blast left a crater where the house and its 80 pounds of homemade explosives were destroyed.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without my team. Ultimately, they do all the really hard stuff, making sure I’m doing everything safe. They are the ones that have to haul the robot and haul all the big heavy gear.”

The rest of the operation resulted in finding more than 1,400 pounds of explosives, 19 personnel mines, and dozens of components that would have gone into making IEDs. How many lives would have been claimed by those devices? Thankfully, there’s no answer for that now.

As a sobering after-thought though, Reed points out that the majority of IEDs in the area are still lying in wait, hidden away. During the clearing operation last week, the task force itself was struck by five separate IEDs. Fortunately, everyone survived with no injuries — giving Reed and her team a chance to carry on doing their jobs, one measured day at a time.

Now: This is what a homemade bomb can do to the Army’s toughest truck >

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