Monday, January 2, 2012

The 'death' of a (mechanical) comrade in arms

I was interested to note the alleged reaction of US troops to the destruction of a bomb-disposal robot in Iraq. Gizmodo reports:

Scooby Doo was a damn good robot. During his deployment in Iraq he assisted in the disposal of 17 IEDs, 1 carbomb, and 1 unexploded bomb (which is always a major get for an EOD unit because of the intel they can gather about the bomb's maker). For every successful mission, the soldiers would draw a hashmark on Scooby Doo's head unit, similar to how fighter jet pilots mark the number of enemies they've shot down on the hull of their planes. Scooby became a member of a team with soldiers that relied on each other.

But one day Scooby met his match. Maybe he'd gotten cocky, turned maverick. His ego writing checks his body couldn't cash. We'll never know. But Scooby Doo was killed in Iraq when an IED he was trying to defuse exploded.

Like Luke after R2-D2 saved the day on the Death Star's trench run, the veteran EOD unit member brought Scooby's body into the repair depot at Camp Victory and said "you've got to fix Scooby." The repair tech said that Scooby was beyond repair, but he could have a brand new robot. No, you don't under stand, this soldier insisted, Scooby Doo had be fixed. He did not want some damn new robot—he wanted Scooby Doo back. Scooby Doo was part of the team. He'd saved their lives. It was reported that this veteran soldier was visibly upset.

And this is not uncommon. EOD units have been known to promote their bots to titles such as Staff Sergeant, award them Purple Hearts, and even hold funerals for their fallen brothers in robotic arms. They assign them personalities, dispositions. Some have even taken their robots fishing with them and let them hold the pole. Regardless of whether you call that camaraderie or laziness, I would argue that it's bonding. It's not hard to see where Scooby Doo's team was coming from. If your dog had been critically injured, and you took him to the vet, and the vet said, "Sorry, can't fix him, but how's about a new dog?" you'd tell him to go procreate with himself, your friend is not so easily replaced.

. . .

Scooby Doo now resides at iRobot's little on-site museum in Bedford, Mass. He has a plaque dedicated to him, and his head-plate still proudly displays his name and stats: 17 IEDs, 1 car bomb, 1 unexploded bomb.

There's more at the link (including pictures).

I must confess, I find this kind of 'personification' of a robot to be more than a little strange. I was certainly never tempted to anthropomorphize any of the weapons or equipment I used during my military service (although, when they didn't work properly, I frequently described them in terms of their ancestry, present worth and future prospects, just as if they had, indeed, been human!). I can't help but wonder whether the Gizmodo article exaggerates the 'bond' between the EOD unit and its bomb-disposal robot. Would any veterans of the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts care to comment? Does it appear realistic, in the light of your experience of and/or with EOD people?



Toejam said...

Rest in Peace Scooby.

You've done more for America than all those OWS morons put together.

Lance R. Peak said...

While not an Iraq/Afghanistan veteran, I am a USAF veteran who has known and associated with several EOD personnel over the years.

While I cannot speak from any sense of authority on the matter, this sounds exactly like something an EOD unit would do, mainly because if the robot wasn't available they would have just lost a live team member.

The taking the robot fishing seems a bit much, but who knows, EOD are a very superstitious lot.

Anonymous said...

Can't speak to EOD, but one of my fellow air-ambulance pilots treated his plane a lot like that - both the petting and the comments on ancestry and hopes of salvation! He and the King Air had survived some hairy flights and he tended to give credit to the plane. He was a darn good stick so the rest of us pretty much left him alone.


Raven Prometheus said...

I am EOD, and I was in Iraq. As far as the previous poster said, it is true that every bot that goes down in the line of duty means one more family that doesn't get that dreaded knock by officers in class-a's. So, yeah, it's only equipment, but we do get attached. I, personally, have lost 4 bots like that. 4 times that my wife wasn't a widow and my kids weren't orphans. As far as anthropamorphising them, we named them, noticed and recorded their "personalities," and kept track of their service numbers after we passed them on to replacing teams. One time my team member and I married two of them together (it's a long story), and were caught during the ceremony. It did end up getting us both a 4 day pass to Qatar....

Twycross said...

The few EOD guys I interacted with generally viewed their robots merely as nifty gadgets. However, I could see such an affection happening. If my platoon could adopt a stay dog that never did us any good, EOD could certainly adopt an exceedingly useful robot.