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Robots, Airmen defuse unexploded ordnance

by Senior Airman Shaun Emery
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

6/2/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- With the help of new, faster and more agile robots, explosive ordnance disposal Airmen here have an opportunity to keep their distance from bombs set to harm servicemembers off the base.

Teaming man and machine is giving Airmen of the EOD unit an upper hand in the seemingly never-ending battle against improvised explosive devices.

Staff Sgt. Brian Robert Butler, an EOD technician here, said he looks at the robots as the unit’s best friend and cannot imagine doing his job here without them.

“It’s a whole new game here in Iraq,” he said. “Many senior noncommissioned officers have never come face to face with an IED. Now we’re all facing them together. It’s the real deal.”

As Soldiers search along grids off base, EOD Airmen wait for the call. When unexploded ordnance or any other unidentified munitions are discovered, it is time to go to work.

The robots take the place of EOD Airmen in the field. Using a remote control, Airmen guide the robots to the location of the munitions. They use the robot’s extending arm and cameras to figure out the type of ordnance and the best way to diffuse it.

The job can take Airmen through an array of terrains. Before new waves of technology put smaller, faster, better-equipped robots in the hands of EOD Airmen, large lumbering machines were used that needed to be put on trailers. The Airmen needed the smaller machines because it was becoming harder to get the large machines through back roads, where the ordnance are often located, Sergeant Butler said.

“We can put two of these robots in one truck before we roll out,” he said. “It’s vital that we have more than one in case the first one breaks down. When it all comes down to it, the robots allow us to stay out of danger.”

As newer generations of robots come into use, EOD Airmen will continually train to stay proficient at the controls. Younger Airmen are leading the way, Sergeant Butler said.

“These young guys are the masters,” he said. “They get the robot, the controls and put it to use.”

Airman 1st Class Isaiah Schaff, an EOD technician, said he is well aware of the important role robots play in the war.

“If it’s not a robot out there, then it’s the team chief,” he said. “One mistake and we lose the person with the most knowledge in the shop. It’s OK to lose a robot, they’re replaceable. We’re not.”

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