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Dublin: 1°C Sunday 27 September 2020

Column: ‘When the adrenaline is racing, you never feel tired’

Patrick, an Irish explosives specialist in South Lebanon, describes his working day defusing IEDs on the Blue Line.


I’M GREETED BY another sunny morning in South Lebanon as I rise at 0600hrs. Even at this hour the temperature is already above 20 degrees Celsius. In my accommodation block there are only two sinks and mirrors between twenty-four of us so everyone is dashing towards the ablutions in an attempt to beat the daily queue for the morning shave!

After polishing off a healthy breakfast, the Battalion parades at 0745hrs. Following parade I attend the morning conference. At this conference events from the past 24 hours are reviewed and the next 24 hours of operations and logistical works are detailed. Once this meeting adjourns, I arrive to the Ordnance Workshops to brief the Ordnance Section.

There are eight personnel in the Ordnance Section and their qualifications include Armourers, Armament Artificers (AAs), Armament Artificer Instruments (AAIs) and an Ammunition Examiner (AE). The Ordnance Section is responsible for the mechanical and electrical maintenance of all weapons and weapon systems including optical sights as well as ensuring all observation equipment and ammunition is in a serviceable condition. The Ordnance Section also provides the Battalion with an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) capability and can be called at a moment’s notice to make safe Unexploded Ordnance or an Improvised Explosive Device which could endanger our own troops or the local population.

Today, the AA’s are carrying out tests on the Remote Weapon Station (RWS) of our Close Reconnaissance Vehicles. The Armourers are conducting inspections and repairs on our Accuracy International Sniper Rifles and M203 Grenade Launchers. The infantry soldiers are the front line troops in any military but as I always tell them they wouldn’t get very far without our expertise!

By 1230 hrs the temperatures has climbed over 35 degrees and the mornings work has everybody ravenous so a welcome lunch is had in the cookhouse. However, my lunch is interrupted as I’m informed that an Irish patrol has found a suspicious item close to the Blue Line, the line drawn up to mark the withdrawal point for the Israeli Army in 2001. Without delay I grab my weapon from stores, don my body armour and helmet and travel to the scene, along with a security party, to investigate the matter. The wearing of body armour raises core body temperature by approximately two degrees in the intense midday heat.

On the scene I observe the suspicious item from a distance, gain intelligence from the personnel in the area who reported the item and then don my explosive suit. In a controlled and careful manner, I make the area safe so that normal everyday routines can continue.

This work is inherently dangerous

As this work is inherently dangerous, the operation is time consuming and the job must be done with meticulous precision. It is something I’m used to doing at this stage but I am always so relieved to leave the scene knowing that I have prevented a young boy or girl out playing, a farmer working the fields or one of our troops from being maimed or seriously injured.

Once the operation is completed we return to camp where I submit a detailed report to the Operations Officer. It’s only after I’ve submitted my report that I realise I’m hungry (when the adrenaline is racing you never tend to feel tired or hungry) and it’s good timing as my watch reads 1745hrs which means dinner is ready in the cookhouse. A welcome portion of roast chicken, potatoes and vegetables is consumed and I allow myself a few more minutes of indulgence by following it up with a cup of tea and some fruit.

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As there is a water shortage in the camp, water conservation is strictly adhered to. Each person in the unit is limited to 30 seconds per day for a shower so my shower is a short affair. Then, in our accommodation area we have a roster whereby each day two people are tasked with ensuring that the toilets and all shared areas are clean and tidy. As it turns out, today it’s my turn to clean the toilet area so I put on my rubber gloves, get to me knees and spend 45 minutes scrubbing.

It’s now 2130hrs, the day’s activities are catching up with me and my body is feeling tired. We have an internet café in the camp where we have the facility to skype call our families at home. We have twenty minute slots which need to be pre-booked in advance. This evening I’ve booked a time slot from 2140 to 2200 hrs. I try to Skype home as regular as possible so I can see my wife and daughter. My daughter is less than nine months old so it’s a great way of seeing her development while I’m away and naturally I miss them both so being able to see them while we chat is a wonderful facility to have.

At approximately 2230hrs I ensure that I have all the personal equipment squared away which I’ll require for the following day before I get into bed and go to sleep not knowing what South Lebanon has in store for me tomorrow.

Patrick* is based in the Defence Forces Training Centre and is the Ordnance Officer with the 104 Infantry Battalion currently serving with UNIFIL in South Lebanon. Here he outlines what was and is a typical day for the ordnance section and him serving in the challenging and difficult environment that is South Lebanon. (*his real name has been changed for security reasons).

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