Airmen escape minefield unharmed

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson
  • 455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs
Two security forces airmen on patrol along the base perimeter here Jan. 5 were rescued two hours after becoming trapped in an unmarked minefield.

Staff Sgt. Michael Klinkert and Airman 1st Class Christopher Coble were in a heavily armored Humvee at about 8 p.m., when six explosions rocked the vehicle, disabling it and blowing up the passenger-side tires.

The airmen, both 455th Expeditionary Operations Group security forces specialists deployed from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., were not injured. After waiting about two hours, a mine-clearing vehicle was sent in to extract them.

The airmen relied on their training to keep a bad situation from getting worse as they waited, stranded remarkably close to the base perimeter wire. Sergeant Klinkert climbed into the vehicle's gun turret and using his Global Positioning System, called in their exact position. Meanwhile, Airman Coble assessed their supplies.

"Our biggest (concern was) making sure no one entered the area," Sergeant Klinkert said. "In the dark, it would have been easy for someone else to stumble on the minefield."

Sergeant Klinkert's fears almost became a reality when a Marine who was patrolling the area began to approach the Humvee.

"I yelled for him to stay back," he said. "At first, he didn't understand, but he got the message and backed off. We were able to keep others out of the area until we were rescued by the Army engineers."

Security forces members guarded the area until morning. Just after first light, de-mining experts from the 41st Engineering Battalion, B Company, arrived at the scene with heavily armored de-mining vehicles to clear the area and recover the damaged Humvee.

"Looking at the damage to the vehicle, it's obvious that the outcome would have been grim if we hadn't been in an ‘up-armored’ Humvee," Airman Coble said.

Up-armored Humvees have ballistic-resistant glass and armor added to the sides, bottom and top. The airmen were also lucky they stumbled upon nonfragmenting anti-personnel mines rather than anti-tank mines, which might have caused significantly more damage to the Humvee.

During the 10-year Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, it is estimated that millions of different types of mines were laid. Marked minefields surround the base, and unmarked fields are discovered regularly. The mines the Humvee hit may have been laid before the airmen were even born, officials said.

"De-mining operations continue here daily, but it could take years to find and clear them all," said 2nd Lt. Andrew Rushing, the security forces operations officer deployed from Minot AFB, N.D. “There was nothing to indicate our airmen were heading into danger on their patrol."

Sergeant Klinkert and Airman Coble said they consider their experience an opportunity to learn and become more effective in their force-protection measures. Once they were out of danger, they returned to duty without pause, and were even on hand when the de-mining operations began.