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Kandahar Airmen protect servicemembers from IEDs

by Staff Sgt. Zachary Wilson
U.S. Air Forces Central combat camera team

6/2/2009 - KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Improvised explosive devices kill people.

The vast majority of military members serving in combat make it a point to go out of their way to avoid them. For the Air Force explosive ordnance disposal team at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, they make it a point to go out of their way to find them.

IEDs, which come in many shapes and forms, are the most dangerous threat to coalition forces serving in Afghanistan, particularly in the southern portion of the country. Responding to this threat falls to the Airmen serving as Kandahar's EOD team, known as Bravo company, one of three assigned to the 755th Air Expeditionary Group.

The 755th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group is stationed at the newly-named Camp Myers on Kandahar Airfield to provide support for operations in Afghanistan as part of Regional Command-South.

"We're made up of 33 EOD techs and four support personnel from vehicle maintenance, supply, communications and personnel," said Capt. Daniel Werner, the company commander deployed from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. "We are responsible for the area within 10 kilometers of Kandahar Airfield and are supported by British quick-response forces who can also participate in operations when necessary."

The organization provides a measure of protection for coalition units performing missions outside of Kandahar Airfield and is part of Joint Task Force Paladin, a counter-IED unit responsible for responding to IEDs and reporting data and information to the Department of Defense, Captain Werner said.

For a career field whose calling is to safely dispose of hazardous explosives, operating in a war zone in the backyard of an active enemy and difficult terrain adds even more risk to a dangerous occupation.

"I actually took this job on a dare from my recruiter," said Staff Sgt. Ryan McCleary, an EOD technician and team leader deployed from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. "He told me I wasn't going to be able to do it and now, five deployments to both Afghanistan and Iraq later, here I am."

The current team has been at Kandahar Airfield for two weeks, but the team members feature significant deployment histories with many of the EOD techs deploying to Iraq multiple times and some to Kandahar on past rotations. According to Captain Werner, the team does not have many senior NCOs assigned and relies on the company's staff sergeants to take their previous experiences and apply it to their new positions as team leaders.

"This deployment is a great way for some of our less-experienced NCOs to be able to learn how to be team leaders and expand their skill-sets," Captain Werner said.

The company's superintendent, Master Sgt. Curtis Keel, noted that while the majority of the unit is made up of traditional EOD technicians, they also have several Airmen deployed with the unit who provide them with logistical, administrative and mechanical support.

"We also fall under the 25th Naval Construction Battalion here and we have several Air Force people who work with them to serve as liaisons for us to ensure we get all the support we need," said Sergeant Keel, deployed from Hill AFB, Utah. "All these people who support us really allow us to do our mission."

The EOD company also performs controlled detonations of captured ordnance found within the area and performs unique training with other services. In a scenario last week while training with Army units, the EOD techs practiced their air-assault techniques from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

When called on a job outside the gate, the EOD technicians travel in a modified mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle that features a telescopic camera, a turret for a M-240B gunner and an assortment of tools and techniques available to defeat explosives.

"We have robotics systems and bomb suites we can don... but our greatest tool is our intellect - we have to have the ability to think and adapt to whatever we might be dealing with," Sergeant McCleary said.

As a very frequently deployed career specialty, many members of the EOD unit are experienced from previous deployments and experiences despite being relatively new to the Kandahar area.

"The job here is still very similar to what I did in Iraq where we were moving out pretty much all of the time," said Staff Sgt. Derek Joiner, deployed from Nellis AFB, Nev. "It's been my job since basic training and I have to say it's been a very rewarding career."

Although the EOD teams are confident and experienced, they know just how real the threat is outside the gates of Kandahar, as they recently named the compound they live on "Camp Myers" after Tech. Sgt. Phillip Myers, an EOD technician assigned to the organization who was killed while attempting to disable an IED April 9 in Musa Qal'e.

"He was an awesome supervisor and taught me everything I know about EOD to this point in my career," said Senior Airman Ryan Goodner, who was stationed with Sergeant Myers at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, and deployed to Iraq with him in 2007. "I heard what had happened to him while I was in training for this deployment. It made this experience very real for me. He was a really good guy."

Members of the new group, which has only been in place for a few weeks and has already responded to multiple threats, keep the sacrifice of Sergeant Myers in mind when they prepare for their missions.

"I try to mentor my team members," Sergeant McCleary said. "If something should happen to me, I want to be comfortable in knowing they are capable of stepping up and filling my position. There should be no reason we can't accomplish our mission."


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