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For soldiers, danger is the only constant


MANDEIKOL, Afghanistan - The demolition specialists took the customary precautions.

They moved the residents of this settlement in eastern Afghanistan well away from the cave where 90 Russian rockets had been found a few days earlier. They had U.S. soldiers take cover about half a mile away, behind two big rock formations.

Only then did Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Wade, the team leader, detonate 45 blocks of C-4 explosive intended to destroy the rockets.

The size of the explosion stunned even Wade. It painted the evening sky red and sent tremendous shock waves across the mountains. It turned ordinary rocks into lethal projectiles, hurling them 1,000 yards.

One stone slammed into the helmet of Pfc. John Blyer, knocking him unconscious. Another stone smashed into the left ankle of Pfc. Gabriel Watt, leaving him howling in pain.

"Medic! Medic!" soldiers screamed in the dark as a plume of flame and smoke rose over the mountains.

Afterward, with the two injured soldiers evacuated and hospitalized in stable condition, soldiers were at a loss to explain what had happened.

"This is a dangerous job in a dangerous place," Capt. Stephen Snyder said. "Anything can happen."

David Zucchino writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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