Saturday, June 16, 2007

"We were in a Cougar, so we survived"

Colomer writes, "It's such a good idea to replace Humvees with Cougars. They can do all the stuff the Humvees do. A Cougar can outrun a Humvee off the line, no problem at all, an armored Humvee, and probably can keep up with a normal tactical Humvee. And the difference in protection is incomparable."

USA Today reports:

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Timothy Colomer, 32, was leading an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team on a mission last December when his Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, a Cougar, hit a massive IED. Everyone in the vehicle was knocked unconscious by the blast, but all survived. Here is his story:
I was deployed to Iraq in August of '06, my first tour. I had seen Cougars at Quantico before I deployed. I didn't drive them or train on them — the new ones were getting shipped straight out to Iraq. But I'd done my homework, and I knew its capabilities.

Each EOD team essentially got its own Cougar (built by Force Protection Inc.). It was our main response vehicle. We kept our tools in there — our robots, our explosives, a certain amount of food and water. It was just a large mobile home for us. Inside the Cougar, we'd have four people. The team had a total of 12-15 guys — two were EOD techs and the rest were support and security. One corpsman, a medical guy, and the rest of the Marines were for security. I was the team leader.

We were operating out of Forward Operating Base Habaniyah (about 50 miles west of Baghdad) when we got a call to a weapons cache that had been found by Marines. We chose a route that was a dirt road. I decided we would go out first in the Cougar. The dirt makes it a lot easier for an insurgent with a shovel to go out in the sand and bury (an IED). That's why I decided to lead from the front.

I can't talk much about what we hit — a type of anti-tank land mine. It was daisy chained (with a second IED set to explode seconds after the first). The net explosive weight ended up being over 100 pounds. It was the biggest crater I've seen from an IED.

From the moment we got blown up, we were knocked out. We've speculated on how long we were out; our consensus was about 20 seconds. The security vehicle behind us (an armored Humvee) was about 20 meters back, and the Marine on the turret got knocked out by the blast wave. Everyone else was OK.

Gunnery Sgt. Colomer took this picture of his MRAP right after the explosion.

One of the insurgent tactics is to lure Marines to the vehicle that has hit the IED, and then they blow up another IED. So my game plan was, if a vehicle gets hit, you don't get out of your own vehicle until you hear from me (that it's safe). And if you don't hear from me, the next senior Marine takes over.

After about 20-30 seconds, I got on the radio — we all wear personal radios — and I told them to stand by for an assessment. I had two guys who were injured a bit more than I was. I could get up and move on my own.

The two guys in the back seat had some injuries. I told my security guys that we were all alive. The other EOD tech and I had to jump out of the truck and look for that secondary IED if there was one. That was hell. We searched for 10-15 minutes.

At that point, the Marines who had called us up for that weapons cache had shown up. They were about 400 meters away when the explosion happened. So they heard it; they saw it. By the time my sergeant and I were out looking for the secondary device, they were there to provide more protection.

We assessed the vehicle. We couldn't move it. At that point, we all got pretty sick. I had some projectile vomiting because of the concussion. My three security Humvees did a medevac so we could all get to the hospital. Then, the other security guys, the ones who had come along, stayed there with our truck. They called in a second EOD team to recover our truck and to still respond to that weapons cache. But on their way, (that team) also got hit by an IED, and that wound up killing one guy.

In response to that, they sent out another EOD team, a third, and that was the one that actually accomplished the mission.

It's like the Wild West out there.

We had complete confidence in the Cougars. We had Cougars that were blown up by anti-tank land mines. We had an incident where a car bomb was driven at one of our Cougars and blew up, and (the vehicle) protected everybody inside.

Our job is to render safe or neutralize IEDs, so we constantly had explosions around us, sometimes just feet away. The Cougars take a beating. They're absolutely tough, like a tank on wheels.

It's such a good idea to replace Humvees with Cougars. They can do all the stuff the Humvees do. A Cougar can outrun a Humvee off the line, no problem at all, an armored Humvee, and probably can keep up with a normal tactical Humvee. And the difference in protection is incomparable.

Had we been in a Humvee when we got hit, we would have been dead, no question about it. We were in a Cougar, so we survived.

SOURCES: AP, USA TODAY research and wire reports
REPORTING BY: Pete Eisler, Blake Morrison, Dave Teeuwen and Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
DESIGNED BY: David Evans and Jerry Mosemak, USA TODAY
PRODUCED BY: Anne Carey, Scott Cunningham, Denny Gainer, Linda Matthews, Chad Palmer, Rhyne Piggott, Juan Thomassie, Alan Turransky and Larry Webb, USA TODAY