TICA, Kosovo - The history of U.S. military explosive ordnance disposal professionals dates back to the beginning of World War II. According to an essay written by retired Command Sgt. Maj. James H. Clifford, titled, “The Origins of U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal” the first ordnance disposal teams were taught by British bomb disposal experts.
The U.S. officers and enlisted learned how to identify bombs, how to use existing disposal equipment, and how to excavate bombs. In addition, the U.S. military adopted British training materials in order to teach thousands of service members the art of ordnance disarming and disposal. The first year U.S. Army soldiers were trained in explosive ordnance disposal tactics was 1947. Since then procedures and techniques have been honed to a razor sharp edge with experience in every major and minor conflict, and numerous peacekeeping missions.
The peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, as part of NATO’s Kosovo Forces, is no different than a wartime mission when it comes to the identification and disposal of unexploded or expended ordnance. However, an additional skill set is added to the regular list of duties for EOD teams in other theaters of operation. According to Staff Sgt. Stephen Miller, Team 1 non-commissioned officer in charge of the 666 Explosive Ordnance Disposal based in Alabama, one of the additional tenets of the 666 EOD’s mission in Kosovo is to mentor and monitor the Kosovo security forces explosive ordnance disposal teams. As of May 29, 2011, the final KSF EOD team completed the required training becoming a fully qualified unit.
The 666 mission allows them to be present when all entities respond to calls placed to the local Kosovo police from a concerned citizen. Oftentimes the citizens have unearthed or found what appears to be unexploded ordnance. The Kosovo police are often on scene when the 666 EOD team arrives along with a team from the KSF EOD. Each element has expertise and experience to offer the others in terms of understanding how to engage with the local populace, cultural norms and acceptable interaction, types of ordnance generally found, and proper identification, disarming and/or disposal of any item found.
Like the experts of the 666 EOD, many members of the KSF EOD teams have served in the field of ordnance identification and disposal for many years. OR-6 Mustaf Kryeziu, KSF EOD specialist, said he has been working in the field of explosives for more than 10 years as armed forces in Kosovo progressed through numerous formations. Kryeziu said the relationship with the 666 allows for an exchange of tools, skills, experiences and best practices. He said that small changes taught by the U.S. forces identified quicker methods which translate to safer responses.
In addition, the exchange of ideas led to a decrease in the number of team members and responders from the KSF. Eleven team members and three vehicles were used to respond to every call; it is now three person teams in one vehicle allowing for a much faster response time with the same level of capability.
The KSF EOD is currently the third responders when unexploded ordnance is found by the local populace. Citizens generally call the Kosovo police and EULEX who in turn contact headquarters KFOR who get the word to the closest EOD team. Together, the entities link up near the site where the call generated from.
Since the KSF EOD is now fully trained, Miller said the 666 typically observe the KSF EOD team and are on scene to offer support, expertise and guidance if needed. The KSF EOD is the lead element during reaction to a call and as such is responsible for securing the scene, identifying the cause for the call, and deciding on a course of action for disposal. The conversation and consultation that occurs between the 666 and KSF is done with the aid of an interpreter and through non-verbal communication. The teams have been working together long enough that they trust and understand one another without the necessity of verbal communication.
“Mustaf [Kryeziu] knows what he’s doing; he’s really calm. We’ve befriended and bonded with a couple teams and are working well together,” said Miller.
While the KSF EOD is reaching goal after goal with the assistance of KFOR EOD teams, the future holds even more potential for them to be capable of taking over day to day operations. The exchange of tools and expertise is far from over however, with KFOR EOD being capable of offering a location for detonating larger items. In addition, Kryeziu said with his experience he feels it is good to use the KFOR equipment and knowledge. He said the collaboration is important as the KSF do not yet have a method for explosive storage, thus it’s good for KFOR to be able to take control of unexploded ordnance and dispose of it properly to ensure Kosovo remains safe for those living here.
The long history of U.S. military explosive ordnance disposal training has helped shape who they are today. This history is being shared with the KSF EOD, and as they continue to respond to calls from their fellow neighbors, the KSF builds their history and hones their skill sets. After each response to a call, the KSF EOD has added another experience and possibly a new element of shared knowledge from the KFOR EOD personnel to their toolbox.
Just as the U.S. EOD experts were originally taught and trained by their British counterparts, the U.S. EOD is now sharing its decades of learned knowledge with the KSF EOD. According to the 666, an EOD catchphrase is ‘initial success or total failure.’ The training and expertise shared by the 666 EOD with the KSF EOD, ensures initial and continued success for the safety of those in Kosovo for decades to come.