News: EOD active duty, Guard, Reserve save lives, deny terrorists victory
Story by Staff Sgt. Sara Keller
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — It’s midnight at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan and the team leader for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight is running from door to door in his PT gear yelling “get up, it’s go time!”
Warnings are coming over the giant voice system outside, exclaiming “incoming, incoming, incoming.” Two rockets have been fired onto the base, shaking the airmen rooms as they lace up their boots.
It takes the EOD techs no more than 10 minutes after getting out of bed to be fully geared up and ready to go on their next mission, and four more rockets have already been fired into areas where they will be headed next.
There are two three-man EOD teams and a team leader at Bagram. They are a part of the 966th Air Expeditionary Squadron, and support Combined Joint Task Force Paladin.
As EOD technicians, responding to indirect fire or rocket attacks on base is just one of their many inherently dangerous jobs.
EOD techs are experts in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials and explosive devices. The unit helps insure freedom of operations in a deployed environment by locating, identifying, disarming, neutralizing, recovering and disposing of hazardous explosives, CBRNE and incendiary items.
They neutralize criminal and terrorist bombs, clear areas of explosives-related contamination, perform post-blast analysis after improvised explosive device attacks and dispose of unserviceable and outdated munitions.
By providing their EOD capabilities, the teams make it possible for service members deployed to Bagram to complete their missions with confidence, knowing EOD is only one call away.
“We can’t do our job without EOD, there’s just no way,” said Tech Sgt. Eric Fox, team leader with the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Quick Reaction Team known as the Reapers. “For example, we called them out for a rocket we found, and it’s the same type of ordnance I’ve seen used in IEDs in the past. By them coming out and destroying it, that’s one less IED [the enemy] can use against BAF or us. Not to mention the multiple IEDs they can diffuse, saving our lives, before the enemy can diffuse them on us.”
To be an EOD tech, the airmen went through a rigorous nine-month course where they had to pass more than 50 tests that challenged not only their intelligence and attention to detail, but their physical endurance and mental capacity. Throughout their careers they constantly train and try to stay one step ahead of the enemy.
“The EOD school was definitely a challenge to get through,” said Capt. Dan O’Neil, EOD tech deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan from the 158th Fighter Wing with the Vermont Air National Guard. “The standards are very high and it takes a very well rounded and motivated individual to get through that type of training.”
EOD techs make up less than one percent of the Air Force with a little more than 900 airmen on active duty status, not even 170 positions in the Air National Guard and even less in the Reserve. However, EOD airmen account for 17 percent of casualties during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Air Force.
There are currently more than 70 EOD airmen deployed to Afghanistan supporting CJTF Paladin, 18 of them are Guard, five of which are assigned to Bagram.
Recently, Air Force and Defense Department leaders have been considering removing EOD positions in the Guard. With the type of threats U.S. service members and coalition forces have been faced with in the past and will continue to face in Afghanistan, the EOD unit agrees that taking EOD positions away could only hurt their fellow EOD brothers.
“It’s hard enough to make an EOD tech, and keep the positions filled with fully-trained airmen,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Wade, EOD team leader deployed to Bagram from the 142nd Civil Engineer Squadron out of the Portland ANG Base, Oregon. “If the ANG EOD program is eliminated it would force the active duty and Reserve to take up the slack in a career field manned at 77 percent. As it stands now, many of our active duty EOD personnel have been deployed five to seven times. It places enormous pressure on the service members and their families while diminishing the response capability of their shops.”
Apart from deploying and completing their various missions throughout the area of responsibility or any country they are needed in, the EOD Guard provides their expertise to their home bases in the states and the surrounding area.
“Guard EOD is important because we provide a cost effective solution to the high operations tempo of overseas deployments, while conducting a robust portion of stateside EOD missions,” O’Neil said. “Especially in the States. We conduct range clearances, we travel with political dignitaries to ensure they’re safe from explosive hazards, we respond to bomb threats and provide training and advisory support to civilian authorities. Most importantly, when aircraft are loaded with munitions and countermeasures, they need EOD techs there to support the flying mission.
“Active duty EOD is already struggling to achieve all of its mission set with its current manpower, with help from the Reserve and Guard,” he continued. “I don’t know how they would do it with out the support from the Guard.”
Whether they are active duty, Reserve or Guard, EOD airmen fill a much-needed role here in Afghanistan that not only keep the airfield clear, but makes service members, coalition forces and the local Afghan population feel safer knowing EOD is there.