Afghanistan's Real-Life 'Hurt Locker'

As part of our continuing coverage of "Afghanistan: the Road Ahead," - CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy follows the Third Battalion, First Marines at home, and abroad in Afghanistan.

Sergeant Matthew Jackson,a bomb disposal expert, maneuvers a robot up to a car he suspects may be booby trapped.

"You pack a vehicle full of explosives and a group of guys sweep up near it, you could have a catastrophic kill of a bunch of guys," Jackson said.

He drops an explosive charge through a window, and blows the threat away.

The Marines had to blast their way into Safar Bazaar, a Taliban stronghold, back in August. Buried under the streets of this market town were countless IEDs.

Today, things have changed.

Lt. Col. Watson said he doesn't believe that the locals knew were the IEDs were planted.

"According to them they were all forced to adhere to a curfew every evening at 7 o'clock and nobody but the Taliban was allowed in the street."

Two months ago, the Marines found 40 bombs on one street. Now they have been cleared, and people walk without any fear.

Jackson has lost count of the total number of IEDs discovered. "A hundred plus," he said. "Not counting strikes."

We first met Jackson in July. He lives and breathes explosives - even has their molecular structures tattooed on his left arm.

In two months in Safar, IEDs killed two of his friends - Corporal Dan Greer and Gunnery Sergeant Floyd Holley. Several more were wounded, including Sergeant Johnny Jones, who lost both his legs.

The Most Dangerous Job in Afghanistan

Despite their losses, Jackson's team learned many valuable lessons - how to probe for IEDs with no metal that cannot be picked up by the detectors, new ways to use robots, how to find the wires leading to the bombs, and how to share information on new types of IEDs with bomb teams across Afghanistan.

"We collect it and transmit information very quick now - it is within days our lessons learned are passed between all units," Jackson said.

Jackson knows that leaving this adrenalin-fueled life to return to his family will not be easy.

"You miss it, you do," he said. "Your brain here works a million miles an hour, and when you go home - how do you shut that off?"

Jackson said walking across a field, without looking where he's putting his feet will be an adjustment.

As Jackson and his men prepare to leave, they know their job is not over. He will be coming back soon, continuing his quest to find these deadly devices.

Jackson said he "will do it again, and again, and again. It is not just a job to me, it is a passion."

That passion can make the difference between life and death.

More of Terry McCarthy's "Thundering Third" Blogs:
Weaning Afghan Farmers off Opium Will Take Time
Concrete Results for Marines in Safar Bazaar
Marines Help Afghan Kids Go to School
The Most Dangerous Job in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, a Beautiful Desert Goes Boom
Marines Navigate Poppy Fields, and the People In Afghanistan