News: Navy EOD Techs Race to Remember
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Race participants gathered, heads bowed, taking a moment to reflect as 18 flags representing a fallen Navy EOD warrior moved silently in the light breeze blowing through a parking lot on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. It was a calm moment in what was about to be a physically demanding race as Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians, families, and friends came together to honor fallen and wounded EOD warriors during the 4th annual Blaster 8K run, Oct. 5.
Before the race began, each of the flags was raised into the air by a runner as the corresponding names were read aloud by Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Robert Wagner.
“EODC Paul J. Darga, EOD1 Joseph A. McSween, EOD2 Taylor J. Gallant,” Wagner called out.
Moments later over 50 participants started their run across pavement, grass, gravel and sand culminating in the punishingly named “Hill of Woe” a near-vertical climb up an uneven sandy hill that marked the finish was in sight. The race winds through the the base with elevation changes and mixed terrain.
Many of the runners had a personal connection to the name on the flag they held while competing in this challenging event. EOD techs like Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Patrick Flanigan, who carried the flag of his friend Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician 1st Class Kevin Bewley who was killed in Iraq in 2007, wished to honor his friend as well as give back to a community that has meant so much to his life.
“My reason for being here is really two-fold,” said Flanigan. “I was in a severe accident a few years ago and the only reason I am here able to do this is because of everyone here today. I’m also here to pay tribute to Kevin he was a close friend of mine. We knew each other for a long time.”
Senior Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Jose Bryant, who carried the flag of his friend and former EOD classmate Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician 1st Class Jeffrey Chaney who was killed in Iraq in 2007, spoke of the Blaster 8K run as a celebration to honor the lives of warriors as well as a chance to remind everyone what these warriors stood for and what their sacrifice means to all Americans.
“Today we celebrate the lives of those that we lost, it’s not so much their death but we celebrate their lives, they gave to the world and the freedoms they allow our country to have,” said Bryant.
Lt. Brad Snyder, a combat wounded Navy EOD officer and Paralympic athlete, was also present to offer words of praise and encouragement before the race began.
“For me, it is a cherished opportunity to return to Virginia Beach, specifically Fort Story where I have so many memories and where a great number of my old teammates and friends are currently paying-it-forward by sharing their experiences and knowledge with teams that are training up to head out on deployments all over the world,” said Snyder. “I am really looking forward to catching up with my friends and teammates.”
Wounded warriors like Snyder face many challenges but often do so with an unshakable resolve that had made them successful in the Navy EOD community.
“You can choose to focus on how life is different, or you can instead focus on how life is, said Snyder. “You can choose to be a victim, or you can choose to be thankful that your life was spared. If you perpetually seek out the positives in life that is all you will see. On the flip side, if you focus on the negative side, you will miss how wonderful life can be. The race is an opportunity for us all to celebrate life together, and truly enjoy life.”
As the runners crossed the finish line, the race weary participants returned the flags to the metal stands. Many of the runners, be it an EOD tech, family, friend or supporter, stayed after the race sharing stories in the shadow of those being remembered proving these departed EOD warriors still bring people together and touch the lives of those they loved just as they did in life.
The Blaster 8K race, now in its 4th year, is coordinated annually by EOD Training and Evaluation Unit (EODTEU) 2’s Chief Petty Officer’s Association.