News: EOD blow up insurgents' plans
Story by Spc. Ben Hutto
Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Sgt. 1st Class Ed Allbaugh, 35, of Newark, Ohio, and a platoon sergeant for the 789th Explosive Ordnance Company, cradles the phone between his shoulder and cheek, grabs a pen and paper and goes to work.
"Ok, what was that grid coordinate?" he asks.
As he gets the details of an Improvised Explosive Device explosion in the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment's area of operation, Sgt. 1st Class Choate Smith, 37, Houston, walks into the room and listens.
Both non-commissioned officers are all ready formulating a plan before the phone call is finished.
When Allbaugh hangs up, they quickly coordinate.
"This one mine?" asks Allbaugh.
"Yeah, take the two that got back last night and go," says Smith.
As Allbaugh gears up and walks out the door, Smith smiles.
"Just another day," he says with a shrug.
The 789th Explosive Ordnance has been at Forward Operating Base Hammer for two months, but they have already been involved in 95 incidents involving explosives. They have destroyed or neutralized improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance, enemy caches, remnants of war and munitions.
"We've averaged about one or two incidents a day," says Smith. "I normally wake up, go to the brigade and check intelligence. After that, we are on the go trying to stop the bad guys."
Capt. Justin Gerken, 33, from Red Wing, Minn., the commander of the 789th, is thankful for the Soldiers he has.
"These guys are, by far, the most intelligent people in the Army, in my opinion," he said.
"They have to have a 110 GT score just to get in this MOS. After that, their training has a 60 percent attrition rate. We like to think we have the best minds in the Army. They never deal with the same situation twice. They are very adaptable and think on their feet well. These guys also have a high level of maturity and responsibility. We have staff sergeants rolling up on a site and they have on-scene command."
The group's experience is a big asset in handling the stressful scenarios they come across.
"Just between the senior leadership, we have over 60 years combined experience," explained Allbaugh. "We've taught most of the guys under us at AIT. We are in a small field. We all know one another in some way. I might not know a person, but I probably know someone they work with. It helps that we are so small. Everyone does their job and looks out for one another. It definitely builds a bond within this unit."
The challenge of the job is what draws Smith and Allbaugh to it.
"It is always something different," explained Allbaugh. "Very rarely do we do the same thing twice in one day."
Smith concurs with Allbaugh's assessment.
"It can be a challenge trying to figure out how to defeat (insurgents)," says Smith. "It can be a mental chess game with the bomb-maker, sometimes. What we are trying to do is defeat him by keeping him from killing 3rd (Infantry Division) Soldiers, disrupting his activities and ultimately, catching him. That's the key, we have to catch the bomb-makers or they will just keep on doing what they are doing."
Allbaugh understands that the bomb-makers that he is trying to combat are not uneducated hooligans.
"A lot of bomb-makers are college educated engineers," he explained. "They know what they are doing and adjust quickly. We have to constantly switch up what we do out here. In this area, they are getting more sophisticated. The better we get at our jobs, the better they have to get to have a chance to defeat us."
When asked if the bomb-makers ever target him and his Soldiers, Allbaugh responded quickly.
"Yes, without a doubt they do," he said. "They put out secondaries to try and kill our first responders, people like us and the medics. You have to remember, they will watch us a few times to see how we respond and then try to use that to hurt us."
Despite the danger, Allbaugh is excited about the job he and his Soldiers are doing.
"We blew a cache two weeks ago that had 60 ordnance items," he explained. "We got the bomb-maker and confiscated some devices. That was a good day."
As various Soldiers run in and out of the EOD office getting ready to go out, Gerken takes a moment to reflect about what makes his group special.
"It is really an honor to command a group of Soldiers like this," he said. "These Soldiers volunteered to go out to live IED sites and help prevent them from hurting people. It sounds cool that they get to play with explosives, but really they are about saving people's lives."
Smith, who has been neutralizing explosives for the last 11 years, understands how important his job is.
"If we make a mistake, we can damage property, equipment, the local infrastructure and, most importantly lives."
Smith also offers any advice to Soldiers who happen to be at an IED site when he is working.
"If you see me running, you better catch up," he says with a smile.