The Hoffman Device by Kelly Crigger
The Hoffman Device
Some things don’t mix. Oil and water. Liberals and common sense. The Spears family and responsible parenting. As a new Observer / Controller (OC) at The National Training Center in 1999, I had recently learned why officers don’t drive military vehicles . I was about to learn why officers don’t carry pyrotechnics as well.
A quick bit of background – The National Training Center at Fort Irwin is a beautiful and harsh environment smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Its greatest asset is its size (that’s what she said) because it can accommodate the full spectrum of tactical operations for a heavy brigade combat team. Since the Army strives to make training for combat as realistic as possible, we have a plethora of toys that replicate the sights, sounds, and even the smells of the battlefield. If it goes BANG for real, then it has to go BANG in training. So how do you replicate the muzzle flash and bang of a tank without actually firing a round? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Hoffman device.
The Hoffman device is basically a quarter stick of dynamite with two small wires leading off of it because it’s electrically primed and detonated. This extremely powerful simulator gets plugged into a housing tube at the base of a tank’s main gun (kind of like a cock ring) and when the gunner pulls the trigger it goes BANG very loudly.
So there I am driving my HUMVEE across Fort Irwin on a heat cat 4 day to join my OC (Observer / Controller) team on Hill 720 when I see something on the side of the road. It’s everyone’s job to keep the desert policed up, and I, in particular, always had a garbage bag full of troop detritus in the back of my rig. But this trash was different. On the side of Barstow road, discarded with complete apathy, were six Hoffman devices.
“What the fuck?” I muttered as I brought my Tarantula 62 mobile to a halt next to them. “Some lazy schmuck…”
I picked up the Hoffmans, threw them in the back of my Hummer, and sped away, sweat stinging my eyes from nearly a hundred degrees of oppressive heat. Across the desert I roamed to link up with my OC team 30 minutes later up inside a hidden wadi where they were conducting resupply ops. Every OC team has a network of these wadi’s where we could relax, fuel up, and eat chow well away from the prying eyes of the Blue Force troops being trained. I parked my Hummer on line next to my buddy, Greg’s, shut the engine down, and discarded my Kevlar helmet.
“Hey,” I said scratching my head before covering it with a black ball cap. “Who should I give these to?” I threw my thumb over my shoulder and pointed to the Hoffman’s laying in the bed.
“Jesus Christ!” Greg responded, nearly spitting out his chicken and rice. “What the fuck are you doing?” he said leaping like a Lord out of his truck to get a closer look.
“Uh…helping police up the desert. We’re all conservationists, you know.”
“You’re going to kill us!”
“Really? I can’t imagine how.”
“Those things can be detonated by static electricity! And you have six of them!”
I removed myself from the Hummer with a sudden sense of urgency. “Then why are you trying to get a closer look?” I asked. “Isn’t that counter productive?”
“For the same reason I want you to taste something when I’ve already determined it’s disgusting,” Greg said. Even when death was on the line, we always found the time to act like immature siblings. “Where did you find them?” he asked.
“In the desert.”
“And you drove all the way here with them in the back of your truck?”
“How do you know it was a long trip? I didn’t say where I found them.”
“Doesn’t matter. There’s over a full stick of dynamite three feet from your head.”
I was caught in moment of stupidity and found relief only in the words of a former Battalion Commander’s mantra. Admit nothing. Deny everything. Make counter accusations.
“I didn’t know static electricity could set them off. Maybe you should have educated me better,” I responded, trying to turn the tide of the conversation.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have gone to a public school,” he said with no hint of jocularity. “It’s pretty basic physics. Movement equals electricity equals charge equals Crigger pink mist in the sand.”
I abandoned the counter accusation strategy in favor of sympathy. “Why you got to be so hurtful to a brother?”
“Because you deserve it,” he responded.
Time to change the subject. “Why are you backing away?” I asked.
“They can still go off, you dumbass.”
Unbeknownst to me, Greg was actually leading the conversation away from ground zero. Not only was he successfully berating me, but he was saving my ass while doing it. Bastard.
We stopped shuffling away from the trucks at a comfortable minimum safe distance for six quarter sticks of dynamite. There’s no defined arc in any manual for such a weapon, but we figured a hundred meters was at least out of the kill zone. In hindsight it wasn’t nearly far enough for shrapnel.
Within minutes the entire team knew of my thickness since two OC’s standing a hundred meters away from their trucks attracted some attention. An hour later an EOD Specialist came to take my Hoffman’s away, shaking his head as he left.
Winston Churchill once said, “There’s nothing more thrilling than having the enemy shoot at you and miss.” I’m paraphrasing, but his intent is clear. For me dodging death has always brought forward three emotions – euphoria followed by a nervous breakdown followed by a realization. Some things don’t mix.