By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – He looked like an astronaut in a green space suit, carrying on his shoulder some kind of contraption that might have been a moon rock destructor for all anyone knew.
A fellow Soldier stood by to supervise. He told a group of people watching to give the man in the suit some room.
"You may want to stand back," he said to the small crowd. "That thing's actually loaded, and it can blow."
That "thing" was a Percussion Actuated Neutralizer, a tool used to disarm explosive devices by destroying specific components that allow bombs to go boom. The suit was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal 9 Bomb Suit, which weighs around 50 pounds. The man inside the suit was 1st Lt. Ryan Fisher, and this was his final test to earn his certification as an EOD team leader.
This test, which included searching a suspect vehicle and disarming the explosive threat, was one of roughly 40 that evaluated Fisher to prove he's fit to lead.
"It's relieving and satisfying at the same time," Fisher said of completing his certification, for which the testing spanned over a period of two months.
"It's nice to know I'll be moving into a position where I'll have a greater opportunity to employ the EOD skills that I've been practicing the last six months."
Six months is how long it took Fisher, a Pittsburgh native, to prepare for all the testing. The biggest challenge was that he doesn't find himself in a training environment—he's in Iraq completing real missions that affect lives of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and citizens. He's currently deployed as an EOD technician with the 760th EOD Company, which is stationed on Forward Operating Base Kalsu and operates in the regions of North Babil, just south of Baghdad.
When Soldiers on the ground patrol the roads and come across improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, EOD are the people they call. The company will then send out a three-person team to the site to either destroy or disable the explosive threat. After all, the logo above the EOD company's entrance boasts, "They make 'em, we break 'em."
With his certification, Fisher will now be able to go out on those missions and supervise the team arriving on site.
"That's probably the best part about it," Fisher said of the certification. "It's satisfying to know that I'll be moving into a position that's more hands-on ... and going on more EOD missions."
The training and the testing for this position took so long and covered so much ground because of everything a team leader must handle once they arrive at the threat site. The team leader manages more than just two Soldiers, as he must also take charge of whatever Soldiers are already on the ground and ensure they cordon the area and keep a lookout for any secondary threats.
And of course, with any explosive, lives are at risk so the EOD team leader is personally responsible for the safety of everyone in the area, so the device better be disposed of properly. Each task that comes into play requires attention to detail and a thorough knowledge of all the EOD skills: from disposing of ammunition to employing a remote-controlled robot.
Typically, Soldiers of the rank of sergeant and staff sergeant become team leaders after already spending time as members of these very missions. As a lieutenant, Fisher didn't have the benefit of that exposure, so he said he relied heavily on the help of senior non-commissioned officers in his company to help train.
"I think the certification process, for me, really gave me a lot of faith and taught me to really rely on the knowledge and experience of my senior NCOs," Fisher said. "A lot of these guys have been working in the EOD field for six, eight, ten years and they've basically taken me and imparted all their knowledge and all their experience into the training process.
Fisher has been in the EOD field for 11 months, and has spent most of that time serving in Iraq. He said the deployment has given him a chance to truly appreciate the training because here is where it really counts.
"For me I think it was actually a great jump start to my EOD experience, and I think the learning curve has been a lot steeper as a result, but I think that's a good thing. I think it's really provided me an opportunity to learn a lot faster than I would have maybe back in the States."
He now has seven months left in his deployment to put his new certification to work. It's a job he takes pride in because of the ramifications it holds. Not only does his company respond to IEDs Soldiers find, but to explosives found by ordinary Iraqi citizens.
"We're responding to actually serve the local populace here to ensure any explosive hazards that they discover are handled in a safe fashion. So it's very satisfying being able to help these people and basically eliminate these dangerous devices ... That's our responsibility."
This work, Bomb Suit Soldier prevents things from going BOOM!, by MSG Michel Sauret, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.