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Walking the 'lonely walk.' Who is EOD? (Part 2 of 3)

October 2, 2012

By Sgt. Christopher McCullough

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan - Becoming an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician is no easy matter. The Explosive Ordnance Disposal course involves attending a 10-week pre-course held at Fort Lee, Va., followed by another 8 months of training at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., but that's only if you go straight through. The attrition rate for aspiring EOD techs is high; a lot of students are held back and have to repeat some of the schooling, even then, not everyone makes it.

The curriculum at EOD School is varied and intense. Students are schooled in ordnance recognition, bomb searches, how to disarm hundreds of types of conventional ordnance, such as grenades, mines, mortars and rockets, as well as other ordnance related courses. They are also instructed on how to collect forensic evidence such as fingerprints, DNA and samples of explosive material used in improvised explosive devices. Such data allows experts to determine how insurgent bomb makers are creating their IEDs, and where they are being manufactured so they can be tracked down and stopped from making their wares.

How they roll

Even with these super sleuths on the job, the bad guys are still able to get their bombs out onto the battlefield much of the time. That is when EOD technicians, like Marvin and Conard, really earn their paycheck.

"Once a call comes in for an IED, whoever my number one team is has 15 minutes to roll out the gate," says Marvin. "So that means their truck is already loaded, they've done all their pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections and they're ready to roll."

Once they are out the gate, Marvin and Conard's soldiers could be out 30 minutes or 30 hours.

"In the past we could be out and back in a half hour," says Conard. "We'd go out with the robotics, get all the evidence we could off it [and] we'd dispose of whatever ordnance or HME is present."

But with increased regulations, Conard explained, technicians these days go out to the scene of an IED and have to call up to higher headquarters for air clearance; to ensure that there is no aircraft in the area that could be damaged by any ensuing explosion. That means they have to get the "okay" from their higher headquarters before they are able to go ahead with their procedures.

"It's all dependent on outside effects," Conard says. "So there's no set time. It could be a quick half hour there and back [or] you could be sitting out there...waiting for clearance."

Planning for every possible contingency

Even when the soldiers of 787 EOD successfully disarm and destroy an IED, that does not mean they head back to base right away. Depending on insurgent activity in the area, there may be multiple IEDs throughout a province or district. If another unit on patrol discovers an IED while EOD is already on a call, it could mean they might go from one job to another and then to another.

"I've been out for 24 hours just clearing IED after IED," says Conard. "As soon as I get done with one, 'hey, they got another one they found out here,' and you move to that. And you move and move; all day long you're out. There is no set time for us. It's [a] 24 hour response. You could be called at a moment's notice and you could be out for 5 to 10 days sometimes. You prepare for everything."

That means an EOD team has to plan for every possible contingency. In order to do so each truck has multiple robots onboard, as well as an 80 pound bomb suit. They also have different kits that allow them to accomplish the various procedures that they need to do. Likewise, each team has a variety of different charges that they use to expose, disrupt or detonate an IED or ordnance.

"When you think about all the different ordnance that is out there in the world, we have procedures for about 98% of it," Conard says. "So if it's a rocket propelled grenade and we can't blow it up, we have equipment that we could use that will shear the fuse off this way, shape charge the nose off that way." The reason EODS is so long is because "every piece of ordnance out there is handled differently."

Still, rendering an IED ineffective is as much an art as it is a science.

"An IED is made to detonate," explained Conard, "but how it is made is up to the ingenuity of the bomber. He can make it anyway he wants. He can booby-trap it if he wants. There is no set book that says 'this is how an IED works, this is how the guy's going to manufacture it, and this is how you can take care of it.' It's random. The bomb maker can make it any way he pleases."

"Dealing with conventional ordnance is simple," Conard goes on to say. "We know how it works; we know how to take care of it. With an IED you have to think outside the box in how you approach it, and every time you approach one it's different."

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