Local soldier's hobby helps save lives in Iraq

Local soldier's hobby helps save lives in Iraq
The destruction from improvised explosive devices - or IEDs - in Iraq has been devastating. When they're found, specially trained teams move in to defuse them.

One soldier - now based at Fort Lewis - told me the story of one such call after a patrol unit spotted wire - well-known for its use in making IEDs.

Sgt. Kent "Doc" Byrd, an Army explosive ordnance disposal expert, says, "We pulled on the wires and got nothing. We look for a while and don't see anything with the robot."

But Byrd, who spent a year in Iraq carefully analyzing and defusing explosive situations, tends to see things others don't.

"And just as we're moving the robot around on a pile of rocks, I noticed one rock in the camera screen that just didn't look right to me."

Byrd says he spotted the odd rock just as his team leader was about to declare the area safe.

"It didn't look like it belonged, so I told him, 'Hey man, before you get out of the truck, let me flip this rock over, see what I can find.' And as we flipped it over, we could see a portion of a mortar."

Byrd's keen eye probably saved lives - he says the mortar was embedded in plaster made to look like a rock. It was actually part of an IED.

Sgt. Byrd says, "A lot of what keeps us safe is being able to see things before we get to them."

Where did he develop this sharp eye? This intuition? A real knack for seeing what others don't?

From a game - a treasure-hunting game called geocaching.

Byrd says, "It will show me a map, a base map."

The idea is simple - you use GPS coordinates to direct you to a cache - something hidden for you to find. It could be out in the woods, on the top of a mountain, or down the street you drive every day.

"Seeing the things that are meant to be unseen," he says. "Geocaching - that's pretty much what the game is based on - is finding stuff, finding stuff that you know the average person is not going to see as they walk by it on a daily basis."

Byrd's been geocaching for about five years.

When he started this hobby, he was a firefighter and emergency medical responder. So - how did he end up defusing bombs for a living in the Army?

"Unfortunately, a very, very dear friend of mine was in killed in Iraq by an IED," says Byrd. "I looked a little further into EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) and what they do, and I said this is my calling."

He fulfilled that calling during a 12-month deployment in Iraq.

Sgt. Byrd is now at Fort Lewis, looking ahead to his next big assignment.

Sgt. Byrd says, "I really don't see me getting out of this job any time soon."

When he's not at work, Byrd searches out caches. He's also creating a cache - for you to find.

"It's pretty much a life for me now," he says.

So much of a life for Byrd - that he tells me he's constantly getting his friends and his Army counterparts involved in geocaching.


• Anyone can hunt for a cache.
Learn more about geocaching »