Na­tional Guard probes sol­dier’s death in Afghanistan

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By John Is­may

WASH­ING­TON — The Army Na­tional Guard has opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the train­ing and equip­ment made avail­able to one of its ex­plo­sive ord­nance dis­posal units be­fore its de­ploy­ment to Afghanistan ear­lier this year, of­fi­cials said.

The ac­tion fol­lows a re­port in The New York Times on the death of a sol­dier in the unit, Spc. James A. Slape, who was killed by a road­side bomb in Hel­mand prov­ince on Oct. 4.

Slape was a bomb dis­posal tech­ni­cian as­signed to the 430th Ord­nance Com­pany of the North Carolina Na­tional Guard, based in Wash­ing­ton, North Carolina, which is still de­ployed to Afghanistan. Soldiers as­signed to such units are re­spon­si­ble for de­fus­ing im­pro­vised bombs and other weapons that the Tal­iban em­ploy.

Lt. Col. Wes­ley A. Parmer, a spokesman for the Na­tional Guard, said that the ser­vice had started an in­ves­ti­ga­tion ‘‘into the train­ing and equip­ping of the 430th EOD Com­pany for their mo­bi­liza­tion and de­ploy­ment to Afghanistan.’’ He pro­vided no fur­ther de­tails.

But ac­cord­ing to De­fense Depart­ment of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter, the 430th re­peat­edly asked for, but did not re­ceive, cer­tain train­ing cour­ses and equip­ment be­fore its de­ploy­ment that are con­sid­ered stan­dard for the com­pany’s ac­tive-duty bomb-dis­posal coun­ter­parts.

One such piece of equip­ment that the 430th asked for and did not re­ceive was an ad­vanced hand-held de­vice that its man­u­fac­turer says can de­tect any buried weapon that the Tal­iban are known to use.

That mine de­tec­tor re­port­edly costs less than $15,000.

Slape was killed by a buried ex­plo­sive while re­spond­ing to an ear­lier im­pro­vised bomb at­tack on a U.S. ve­hi­cle about 7 miles south­east of Camp Dwyer, a U.S. for­ward op­er­at­ing base in south­ern Afghanistan.

It is un­clear whether hav­ing the ad­vanced de­tec­tor his unit re­quested would have saved his life.

At the time of his death, Slape, 23, of More­head City, North Carolina, was the eighth Amer­i­can to die in Afghanistan in 2018. Since his death, six more U.S. troops have been killed in com­bat in that coun­try.

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