How Does The Army Battle An Unseen Enemy?

We often hear news stories about servicemen and women who’ve been killed or injured by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) but what do these weapons look like? What precautions must be taken? And what injuries do they cause?

This exhibition looks at the constant and hidden threat that IEDs pose and the instant and long term impacts they have on the lives of soldiers and their families.

On first entering this exhibition and seeing an IED, it’s shocking how innocuous it looks. The device is made from everyday objects like a water carrier, a battery and parts of a tyre. We then meet the men and women whose job is to find and defuse these explosives and the array of equipment they have at hand ranging from sophisticated robots to underwear designed to deflect shrapnel — visitors are encouraged to feel the material and it’s hard to believe how something so thin can offer so much protection. There’s a ‘combat monkey’ lucky mascot on display and accounts from frontline personnel reminding us of the human side of this risky undertaking.

The second half of the exhibition focusses on the training that medical personnel receive to treat IED victims, and the physiological and psychological damage that can result from a blast. It’s a reminder of how good most of us have it, and this is reinforced by a wall dedicated to those who’ve lost their lives because of IEDs.

It’s an interactive exhibition and the most enlightening feature is a recreation of an Afghan village where visitors have to try and spot where potential IEDs might be buried, looking out for subtle signs like discoloured spots on the ground or mobile phones hidden within the walls. We felt our senses heighten as soon as we entered the corridor and it made us realise the levels of stress and alertness that these troops constantly have to endure.

This is a fascinating exhibition and a fitting tribute to the hard work and risks undertaken by the armed forces when dealing with this unseen enemy.

Unseen Enemy – Improvised Explosive Devices and their impact: First-hand accounts from Afghanistan is on at National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4HT until 31 March 2014. Admission is free.

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