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Walking the 'lonely walk.' Who is EOD? (Part 1 of 3)

October 2, 2012

By Sgt. Christopher McCullough

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan - The silence of a frigid February afternoon was broken by an ominous warning. "Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole," the warning echoed across a sub-freezing landscape draped in ice and snow. Seconds later an explosive ordnance technician from 787th Ordnance Company, 3rd Ordnance Battalion, detonated several thermite grenades that destroyed over 500 pounds of homemade explosive.

The HME burned this afternoon could have been used to injure, maim, or kill Afghan civilians, International Security Assistance Force soldiers or their Afghan partners, but thanks in part to the soldiers of 787 EOD; this HME is cooked, literally.

As it happens, the HME that was destroyed this day was discovered during a raid on a suspected bomb making laboratory conducted the previous week. Had it not been discovered, it could have been used to build an IED, in which case EOD would have to come out and blow the IED in place.

Who would come?

Who are these people that are willing to risk their lives neutralizing explosives that could just as easily kill them? To find out the answer, I linked up with 1st Lt. Dan Marvin and 1st Sgt. William Conard, both from 787 EOD, and learned a thing or two about those who walk "the lonely walk."

On the surface, Conard and Marvin are straightforward, down to earth guys; the kind of men you would invite to your family barbecue. But underneath their sensible exteriors are a couple of the most courageous men in the U.S. Army. If there's any doubt, consider how few people in the armed forces actually volunteer to walk up to a live IED, knowing full well it could be detonated at any time, and disarm it. But they do it!

"I did 10 years of warehouse-supply work, and at the end of the day I didn't feel like I'd accomplished anything," says Conard. "So I went to Egypt and worked with the EOD guys and did some of the stuff they did. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finished it. 'Hey I cleared this explosive hazard and potentially saved the lives of numerous people.'"

So a warehouseman in search of job satisfaction chose working with explosives over stocking shelves. Surely that doesn't sound like a rational decision to some people.

You've got to be a little bit irrational to do it as well laughed Conard.

Marvin's explanation wasn't much different. An enlisted infantryman for 9 years, Marvin was looking for the next big challenge in his Army career, so he chose to attend Officer Candidate School where he made the decision to go EOD.

"I wanted to do something that would make me feel like I was playing a significant role on the battlefield and taking care of the good guys, and EOD was it," Marvin says. "That was my option; either that or be a maintenance officer and I didn't want to do that," he laughs.

So what is the job of an explosive ordnance technician anyway? Do they just blow up bombs and such, or is there something more to their job?

"We're trained and specialized to handle that threat," Conard says. "So we clear that threat and keep the roads clear for personnel and supplies moving up and down the route [which] keeps personnel from getting hit with those devices or trying to clear them themselves."

Still, Marvin explains, that's not the sum of their job.

"Our job is to protect," he says. "Our job is not necessarily to blow up bombs. Our job is to protect personnel and property. That's the only reason we go out there and do it."

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