Wednesday, February 3, 2010
By Caroline Wyatt
Defence correspondent, BBC News
Members of the Army's bomb disposal unit describe the task they face.
Little more than 5ft, Capt Judith Gallagher probably weighs about the same as the backpack and equipment she carried on the long, hot marches through Helmand province that can last most of the day.
The marching in the heat and the dust is only a prelude to her real job - defusing the Taliban's roadside bombs.
On her first night in Helmand last July, working with Estonian forces in the dark by a canal, she defused nine.
"I always wanted to do a job where I could save lives," she says, in a matter-of-fact way.
"I don't find it scary. I don't think you could do this job if you were too scared - you are conscious of the risk to yourself, but you put it to the back of your mind and do what you have to do in front of you."
Capt Gallagher wanted to be a bomb disposal expert from an early age, joining the Army at 18.
The mathematics graduate is one of an elite who have passed the improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD) No1 (High Threat) course. Only four women have, and she is one of just two deployed to Afghanistan.
She admits her husband is not keen on her returning to serve in Helmand.
"Our families are only too aware of the risks."
The high-threat operators of 11 EOD Regiment, part of the Royal Logistic Corps, the British army's specialist unit responsible for counter-terrorist bomb disposal and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), must pass more than 200 exams during their training before they can wear the coveted badge of the ammunition technical officer (ATO) or ammunition technician (AT).
It is a process that can take anything from three to eight years.
It also requires the right temperament - an ability to face risk, work logically and methodically under pressure, and master any fear you might start off with about walking towards rather than away from a bomb.
So how did Capt Gallagher feel after defusing those first devices in Afghanistan, where British troops face some of the greatest threats they have ever encountered from what many describe as low-density minefields?
"Relief in a way," she says.
"When you do the job for real there for the first time, you've got one under your belt. The last thing you want to do is die on your first device."
For the full story online here for BBC online