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One Lucky Marine


Today's must read comes via the New York Times' C.J. Chivers, one of the finest war reporters working today. A Marine on patrol in southern Afghanistan steps on a pressure plate connected to what is later learned to be two 82mm mortar rounds plus another 20 pounds of explosives. What happens next is... well, read on

"If luck is the battlefield's final arbiter - the wild card that can trump fitness, training, teamwork, equipment, character and skill - then Lance Cpl. Ryan T. Mathison experienced its purest and most welcome form.

On a Marine foot patrol here through the predawn chill of Friday morning, he stepped on a pressure-plate rigged to roughly 25 pounds of explosives. The device, enough to destroy a pickup truck or tear apart several men, was buried beneath him in the dusty soil.

It did not explode.

Lance Corporal Mathison's weight triggered the detonation of one of the booby trap's two blasting caps. But upon giving an audible pop and tossing small stones into the air, the device failed to ignite its fuller charge - a powerful mix of Eastern Bloc mortar rounds and homemade explosives spiked with motorcycle parts, rusty spark plugs and jagged chunks of steel.

Lance Corporal Mathison and several Marines near him were spared. So began a brief journey through the Taliban's shifting tactics and the vagaries of war, where an experience at the edge of death became instead an affirmation of friendship, and in which a veteran Marine reluctantly assumed for a morning one of the infantry's most coveted roles: that of the charmed man."

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