SOUTHERN SHORSURAK, HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
It became the catchphrase of the day — “I might as well be God d---ed Sherlock Holmes.”
A bit vulgar with a touch of arrogance, but the Marine saying it had a right to be cocky. Sgt. James R. Humerick had tracked down an improvised explosive device cache as if he’d had a premonition. The squad leader from Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, didn’t just call the compound it was in, he narrowed it down to the room.
Shortly after departing the company’s newly established observation post in Southern Shorsurak for a patrol as part of Operation New Dawn, June 20, Humerick led his squad east toward empty compounds. No more than a minute after telling his Marine to sweep a room, the handheld metal detector emitted a high-pitched whine. A little digging revealed an IED cache: two directional fragmentation IEDs weighing 35 pounds each, 15 feet of detonation cord and 15 pounds of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder.
Triggered by the rush of the find, the Sherlock Holmes line was born. It would be repeated through the day, often as a joke, sometimes variations would take form, “Sgt. James Humerick, AKA Sherlock Holmes the most.”
The patrol that day was a success, and other patrols by other squads during the first week of the operation would also yield cache finds.
For Humerick, from Great Falls, Mont., the find was a welcome change of pace. He is on his fourth deployment and in previous experiences, “We didn’t really find the IEDS, they kind of found us.”
Even though Humerick seemed to be a natural detective that day, he’d later admit the find was part luck, part experience. The discovery came on just the fourth day of Operation New Dawn, a joint operation between Marine Corps units and the Afghanistan National Army to disrupt enemy forces which have been using the sparsely populated region between Marjah and Nawa as a safe haven.
The Marines had limited their patrols to the north and south of their position for the first few days of the operation. Humerick’s patrol was among the first to head east.
“I decided to go straight east and see what was out there,” Humerick said. “We came upon that compound and it just looked like somewhere where I’d hide something. It was run down, nobody lived there. That’s what I try to think like, ‘What would I do? Where would I put it?’ If you do that, usually you’re pretty accurate.”
According to Master Sgt. Jeffrey A. Bratcher, an explosive ordnance disposal staff noncommissioned officer in charge from Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, the IEDs were similar to what has been found in the Helmand province and are primarily used to hit Marines on dismounted patrols.
The Marines were able to see what the IEDs are capable of when Bratcher and his fellow EOD technician destroyed the cache during a controlled detonation just hours after it was found.
As the blast sent shockwaves through the earth, and smoke and sand high into the sky, Humerick had the same thought he’d had in the back of his mind since finding the cache.
“Everyone wants to find a fight, but bringing everybody back is the most important,” Humerick said. “Finding those IEDs, you’re saving lives. Well, somebody else might find them, but when you find them you’re pretty much keeping someone in the fight.”