MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, kill more American soldiers in Iraq than any other weapon. Last year the military spent more than $3 billion trying to fight them through better detection and better armor. Now, there's another approach, hands on IED training exhibits.
North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein reports.
DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: On a big paved lot at Fort Drum in upstate New York, soldiers examine piles of rubble and dirt. Across the lots, a row of Humvees. A couple charred cars are parked next to a graded culvert. Like museum goers, the soldiers study one exhibit then move on to the next. Major Steven Cummings(ph) spots a gray blob inside a cinder block.
Major STEVEN CUMMINGS (U.S. Army): If you look at the block, right up there inside there, you see like a little package inside there? That's where a shape charge is.
SOMMERSTEIN: It's an improvised explosive device, or IED, a simulation of the hidden killers soldiers fear in Iraq. More than a dozen are stashed around this lot. One's hidden under that yellow pylon, but there's not one in that metal pipe. Another's buried beneath a charred patch of pavement.
Staff Sergeant MICHAEL CRANE(ph) (U.S. Army): Some things are very obvious and some things are very hidden.
SOMMERSTEIN: Staff Sergeant Michael Crane designed this new facility. He's an IED expert with the 2nd Brigade 78th Division, an Army unit that trains National Guard and Reserve soldiers before they deploy overseas.
Staff Sergeant CRANE: I have graffiti written over on one of the guardrails over there. That could me a mark, a timing mark. There are rocks neatly stacked up inside the wire over there. That could be a timing mark or it could be just rocks stacked up over there.
SOMMERSTEIN: U.S. soldiers were the targets of more than 1,000 IED attacks just in August. The bombs have killed more than 1,000 troops since the war began and injured 10,000 more. Most of those troops had never seen IEDs until they were deployed. Sergeant Todd Coudret returned from Iraq this spring.
Sergeant TODD COUDRET (U.S. Army): Everything else they show you is like on a PowerPoint slide and they say well, this is a picture of what an IED would look like. But now you actually get to touch it, feel it.
SOMMERSTEIN: Coudret picks among a pile of dirt and broken concrete. He points to what looks like a coat hanger poking out. It's an antenna. An insurgent would be hiding somewhere with a cell phone or garage door opener.
Sergeant COUDRET: The trigger man will be maybe 100, 200 meters away and as long as he's got line of sight on there, he'll be able to detonate that device from wherever he's at.
SOMMERSTEIN: IEDs are made from everything from mortar shells and grenades to TNT and oil. They can spew shrapnel, fire and hot gas several hundred feet. Coudret follows a wire from the antenna to a silver shell, half covered by dirt. He moves the chunk of concrete.
Sergeant COUDRET: Here's another one right underneath here. You can see it. And they're all hooked together like a daisy chain, together. So when that guy hits that detonation device, this whole line right here is going to explode.
SOMMERSTEIN: IEDs killed four men from Coudret's unit. The Pentagon says IEDs are killing fewer people than they used to. It's too early to know how effective these models will be in a chaotic landscape littered with junk that may or may not be a bomb. And insurgents are always inventing new ways to hide IEDs, recently in animal carcasses and coffee cans.
Command Sergeant Major Sonny Mitchell(ph) says this training teaches soldiers to be aware of what may be hidden in an everyday object.
Command Sergeant Major SONNY MITCHELL (U.S. Army): They can walk around it, get the perspective of a U.S. or a coalition soldier and then they can get behind it and get the perspective of what the enemy sees.
Sergeant COUDRET: There's one you'll see a lot over there in Iraq.
SOMMERSTEIN: Sergeant Coudret walks to one side of what looks like an ordinary street curb. On the other side a shell is implanted inside the curb, invisible from the road. Coudret shakes his head. He says this isn't just a training area, it's a memorial.
Sergeant COUDRET: This is basically for all the soldiers that lost their lives for IEDs. Just one soldier saved by this training and it's worth it.
SOMMERSTEIN: The Army is building IED training areas at bases around the country.
For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein in northern New York.
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