The Boom Boom Chronicles, Part I.
TBD (Tree Blow Down)!

Copyright 2002: Ray Sarlin. All rights reserved. (copy permission at bottom)

Webmaster's Introduction
The Boom Boom Chronicles shed a little light on life in the field for combat infantrymen. Many of our days involved arduous physical labor, either humping the boonies, crashing through jungle, searching vacant bunker complexes, digging in, filling sandbags (with dirt or rice), and other physical tasks. But some tasks were fun for some people, and demolitions could brighten your day.

SSG William Koch was the best kind of instant NCO, a Shake & Bake as opposed to Whip & Chill. He was a steady hand, a solid platoon sergeant. He could have been an officer, and perhaps should have been, holding a chemical engineering degree. But he'd chosen his path and he'd earned the respect with which he was accorded. When two of three ambush patrols I'd placed made contact my first night in the field, it was SSG Koch who quietly advised me that the troops were very nervous, because they had not been trained to do such aggressive patrolling... and it was SSG Koch and the other platoon sergeants who helped set up and run the training program that we established.

I could go on, but all of the platoon sergeants were top value. One of the things that made SSG Koch stand out was his interest in demolitions, possibly because of his engineering background. As a Mining Engineer myself, we shared a professional interest in explosives, and discussed the various effects of detonating and deflagrating explosives on more than one occasion. As company commander, my job didn't really involve personally popping caps and blowing bunkers, which was a disappointment, but SSG Koch was in his element.

One day we had an informal bet. The challenge was to rig explosives to bring down two nearly identical trees as firewood, chopped and stacked in a pile. Our lumberjack tools included C4 (plastic explosives) and detonating cord. During the detailed inspection of both trees, SSG Koch and I debated the method to fell the trees, whether to blow the branches first and use delay fuse to stagger the cuts and accordion the truck, or whether to stagger small charges along the truck to achieve the same effect. The key was to collapse the tree on top of itself using small charges to cut it and gravity to stack the pieces. And of course, we wanted to minimize the fly of debris.

Anyone who uses explosives professionally knows that the first step (after authorization, of course) is careful planning and calculation. Anyone can destroy something with explosive overkill, but judicious application brings the most efficient and cost-effective results, especially when you have to hump everything that you use.

So out came SSG Koch's pad and the Demo GTA (graphic training aid, a pocket-sized card). In what may have seemed a few seconds of scribbling and mystical incantations to the uninitiated, the plan emerged to precisely dismantle the forked tree that I had selected as the first target. Det cord was the primary tool of choice, and he set to work prepping the tree, mumbling all the while that he didn't have that much experience with det cord. Within minutes, the tree was ready to blow.

"Fire in the hole" was the cry, followed by a large "boom/crack" and the tree vanished in a cloud of dust. I wish that I could now tell you about the neatly stacked pile of firewood, but the truth is more like we had discovered the secret recipe for toothpicks.

Copyright 2002 Ray Sarlin,

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By Ray Sarlin, webmaster of the 1st Bn (Mech) 50th Infantry website
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