JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Dozens of explosive ordnance disposal service members converged upon Joint Base Lewis McChord, April 16 – 17, to help prepare their colleagues for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The culminating training event tested the skills and abilities of 3rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD) soldiers and their ability to work seamlessly with their Navy counterparts once they assume the role of Combined Task Force Paladin – South in Afghanistan later this year.
“This is the team we are going to have with us in Afghanistan and we get to see their faces, and meet with our counterparts. We are building relationships that are going to be extremely beneficial when we get downrange,” said Lt. Col. Frank Davis, 3rd Ord. Bn. (EOD) commander. “This training takes away a lot of the unknowns; without this exercise the first time I would meet any of our counterparts would be on an airfield in Kandahar.”
In addition to gathering personnel who will soon assume the role of Combined Joint Task Force Paladin – the deployed joint task force responsible for counter improvised explosive device missions, explosive ordnance disposal missions, tactical site exploitation, weapons technical intelligence, forensics, and counter-IED training – the exercise also brought together service members who previously served as TF Paladin in Afghanistan and civilian experts.
“Our goal is to come in and try to assimilate with the rest of the joint audience that is there because obviously the major component of our staff is Navy, but we’ll be falling in under a larger contingent of personnel from other services,” said Navy EOD officer and a member of Task Force Paladin Cmdr. Daniel Rahn. “So, we want to consolidate as a team and carry out the duties that are assigned to us.”
The participants and trainers set up a number of cells within the JBLM Mission Command Training Capability building. These computer-packed rooms simulated command centers and headquarters downrange. The cells buzzed with activity throughout the exercise as uniformed personnel, contractors, and Department of Defense civilian employees cycled through hundreds of scenarios and problems ranging from the extraordinarily technical to the seemingly mundane.
The wealth and breadth of knowledge and experience on hand to provide critical insights and guidance proved to be invaluable for the soldiers of the 3rd Ord. Bn., according to Davis.
“One of our main objectives for this training was to integrate with what will be our higher headquarters, and to get a better understanding of our enabling partners,” Davis explained.
Another one of the main goals of the CTE was to prepare the EOD troops for their increased role in training efforts for Afghan EOD personnel, and to continue to build on the partnerships forged over the past 10 years. To this end, the battalion simulated engagements and exchanges with key Afghan allies and local leaders they may encounter during their deployment.
“We expect to remain busy on this deployment as the threat isn’t going to go away necessarily and as we transition to the Afghan forces and their control, we expect to remain busy training them to continue to carry out the mission,” Rahn said.
In addition to the highly-specialized EOD missions and tasks, the “Nighthawks” of the 3rd Ord. Bn. (EOD) had to work through detailed administrative issues they will surely see during their time in Afghanistan.
“We were also exposed to how the Navy processes their officer fitness reports compared with our Army officer evaluation reports,” Davis said. “I think the level of detail in the scenarios was impressive.”
Ten years of deployments downrange has helped the process become much smoother, Davis explained.
“EOD is truly a joint service. We all attend school together and the ability to integrate into the joint task force has become seamless. We are getting better at this,” Davis said. “We are better equipped and better trained now. The enemy’s actions have driven us to evolve in many ways.”
Working smoothly together both during the exercise and while deployed will help to achieve the ultimate goal of EOD forces, according to EOD Chief Petty Officer Jeff Spengler.
“The key is to keep the people safe,” Spengler said. “Our overall mission is to maintain the safety of not only our coalition partners, but the indigenous people as well.”
The professionalism and proficiency of the soldiers of the 3rd Ord. Bn. (EOD) was on display throughout the exercise, said Command Sgt. Maj. Patric Standley.
“It is clear to me that the staff is ready,” Standley, who recently reported to the unit from U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said. “I think I have learned the most out of anyone. With my fairly new eyes just arriving from TRADOC, I found this to be an invaluable experience.”
(Editor’s note: Petty Officer Lawrence Davis contributed to this report)