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Avoiding IED's in Garmsir, Afghanistan

As part of our continuing coverage of "Afghanistan: the Road Ahead," - CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy follows the Third Battalion, First Marines at home, and abroad in Afghanistan.


Sergeant Jim Morse of 3/1's Weapons Company is a big bear of a man. He is from Austin, TX, likes country music, and manages to keep a good sense of humor - even when tension was high in his company as they took some significant contact around their patrol base from the Taliban in the past two weeks.

Last week a patrol was returning to the base across the fields when the Taliban started shooting at them - Morse and the other Marines still inside the base rushed to the roof to see if they could provide covering fire. In fact the gunfire tapered off and all the Marines outside the wire were able to return safely. Then Morse noticed that one Marine had been in such a hurry to get to the roof that he was wearing his flak jacket and helmet on top, but no pants, just a pair of undershorts, over a pair of pale, hairy legs.

"Johnson, that is dead sexy! That rocks," roared out Morse, as the entire group of Marines burst into laughter. "Anyone got a dollar?" he said, as if about to offer a tip to the semi-clothed Marine.

Morse served eight years in the Navy and the Naval Reserve, then joined the Marines where he has served for 6 years. He did two deployments in Iraq, doing mounted patrols searching for IEDs in Anbar province. He calculated from his vehicles' odometers that in total he covered 16,000 miles - and never once hit an IED. Almost every other vehicle in his unit got blown up, some more than once. His secret? "I am extremely paranoid and I look out for everything" he says. "That - and pure blind luck."

Paranoia is not a bad attribute to have in Garmsir, which has one of the most dense concentrations of IEDs in the country. Morse never lets up. On one patrol we heard him telling a first-timer to stop treading on the raised footpaths that run through the fields, because that is where IEDs can be placed. "Step over it," he bellowed from a distance.

He thinks the Taliban are a tougher enemy than the Iraqi insurgents, better at tactical planning. "They are smart enough to learn from the precautions that we take - every time that we move up a step, they find something to counteract, and it's a chess game, it's a constant back and forth between us."

Life, of course, is full of ironies. Even for a Marine Sergeant who survived two tours and 16,000 miles in Anbar province in Iraq without a scratch. In California just weeks before this deployment, Morse was sitting in his car, stationary at a red light, when he was rear-ended. He injured his back, probably needs surgery, and has pretty constant back pain, particularly when he is out on patrol wearing the heavy body armor that is standard. But ask him if he wants a comfortable desk job, and his reply will be...well, unprintable.

More of Terry McCarthy's "Thundering Third" Blogs:

In Mud Fort, Marines Handle "Dust Up" with Afghan Locals

Specially-Trained Dogs Help Marines Sniff Out IEDs

IED Attack Kills Two Marines

From Protecting Obama, to Protecting Fellow Marines

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