You see the critical chapter that the instructor failed to read had to do with humidity. The military time fuse burns at a specific rate. The book will tell you exactly what that rate is. But that distance and time is based on how long the fuse has been exposed to the level of humidity in the area. Wet time fuse that has been exposed to high humidity will still burn, it just burns very slowly.
We were in the desert. Do you happen to know how humid the high desert in Utah is?
That is how high it was.
The instructor gave me exactly the correct amount of fuse for a two-minute burn, provided that the fuse had just been taken out of the bag and had not been exposed to any humidity. However, this fuse had been in the container a very long while. There’s 500 feet on a roll and this was the last of it.
You’re supposed to do a test burn to find out how long it will take under the conditions you have, but I was told, “That’s all you get, deal with it. It has to last two minutes,” which is why I made sure I was alone and had a will. Two minutes is a lifetime I knew I did not have. I probably should have raised a fuss, but I was too stupid to know better.
We moved out smartly and hit our time lines and attacked on schedule. Then I heard the fateful words “DEMO TEAM UP!” I ran to the objective and the small trailer-mounted radar dish. I was still excited. Even though I was going to die, I was still excited.
My plan was simple. I’d been instructed to have a two-minute burn on the fuse. The problem? I didn’t know how fast this was going to burn. So I planned on lying. I had to protect my platoon. So I was going to call out “Fire in the hole,” and on the third time start my watch, but I wasn’t going to pull the igniter on the fuse. I’d get at least a minute, because I was going to let a minute pass — before — I actually lit the fuse.
Oh, how the plans of mice and men go awry. The company commander, being the senior instructor, decided to be John Wayne and come stand right next to me to show his bravery by being near the explosives.
I tried to shoo him off, but to no avail. When he ordered me to light the fuse, my plan went out the window. I pulled the igniter and screamed, “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” I did not pray back then. I just resigned myself to death.
The commander walked around yelling at people. I watched them in the desperate hope that they’d be far enough away, all the while looking at my watch. I was supposed to run as soon as I pulled the igniter, but with dumbass standing there, well I could not leave him, so I stayed.
He looked at me with an imperious glare and said, “How long?” I was about to say the time when it blew, at 1:05 since I’d lit the fuse.
The blast? Spectacular. Not much flame or anything but the dish housing, made of fiberglass, splintered into tiny pieces. Some of them whizzed past my head at high speed. The heavier front protected us from most of the blast effects, but it was neat the way it hit. The sound was scary and exhilarating at the same time. I was crazy back then, so sue me.
Next, I focused on two huge eyes as the commander got over the shock of his life, and I am pretty sure he shit his pants. After the shockwave passed and the remains of the dish slammed to the ground behind him, John Wayne Wannabe’s first coherent thought was, “YOU WERE TOLD TWO MINUTES!”
To which I replied, holding my fingers apart to demonstrate the length, “YOU GAVE ME THIS MUCH FUSE. WHAT THE HELL WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO? STRETCH IT? I HAD A PLAN. YOU’RE THE ONE WHO WANTED TO STAND HERE.”
We shouted at each other because we were damn near deaf. Otherwise, privates do not normally get to shout at officers.
Upon investigation, I explained the principle of the ‘test burn‘ — the chapter that apparently they’d not read in the book. They asked me, “What course did you attend for explosives training?”
My response concerned them. “I didn’t attend a course. We had a day at the range.”
There was a bit of consternation, “A day, just a day?”
To that I had but one thing to say, “It was only a day, but I learned more than you did apparently.” I graduated and they were happy to be rid of me.
The moral of the story? Just reading the book will not get you anywhere. Experience without the book is a good teacher. But, if you’re going to act like a fool around explosives, bring an extra pair of shorts to work.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal November 26, 2014.
Leonard O. Benton is retired from active duty military service with 24 years and two combat deployments to Iraq. He left the Regular Army after 10 years and became a National Guard Recruiter for his first tour in the AGR program followed by over 10 years in Operations as Force Protection, CBRN and three years as C-IED. He has an Associates degree and is currently working on his Bachelor’s. He is an amateur metal smith and when he is not working or writing he can often be found in his shop pounding away in the attempt to transform a lump of metal into an icon of beauty or function. His years of operational planning, threat analysis, and a deeply cynical view of our imperfect world leads him to focus on world events and cultural beliefs that tend to cause the most friction and chaos in the world around us. He is a libertarian and he believes in personal freedoms and accountability. The Havok Journal gave him an outlet to express the things he sees wrong in the world and the opportunity to once again provide advice on how to fix it. Leonard can be contacted a firstname.lastname@example.org.