CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Aug. 4, 2017 — Throughout the week at the Raven’s Challenge XI exercise here, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps explosive ordnance disposal technicians are training with federal, state and local public-service bomb squads in a variety of realistic scenarios to prepare them for working together when necessary and to pick up tactics and procedures they can incorporate into their own missions.
That mission for military EOD technicians is spelled out in Joint Publication 3-42, Joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal, which says their capabilities are essential for operational success during military operations. EOD forces support freedom of maneuver and force protection and provide a critical enabling capability in the form of collection and exploitation of weapons and explosive materiel, the publication explains.
The publication also stresses the importance of building and maintaining EOD capabilities and technologies to continue to counter the improvised explosive device threat in the homeland. “The role of EOD in relation to national security policy is significant, especially in the areas of counterterrorism and national preparedness, arms control, proliferation, counterproliferation and homeland defense,” it says.
Technicians Attracted by Mission
Most of the military EOD technicians here this week said they chose their career field because of the mission.
“It’s very fulfilling to be able to do something that’s incredibly challenging that other people find vitally important. It’s a really good feeling,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Brook Hamilton, EOD team leader assigned to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. “The people I work with, we all have a huge sense of pride in what we’re doing. Being able to come out here and demonstrate these sorts of things, it’s great. We love this. I feel really good about what I’m doing, and I know my brothers and sisters in arms feel really good as well.”
“Training like this is how we keep people alive. This is what gets service members back home alive,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Carroll, another EOD technician from Spangdahlem. “This is what gets fathers and brothers and spouses back to their families so they’re not coming back in a casket. This is how you keep people alive, doing training like this.”
First Sgt. Maj. Nele Van Keer, the first female EOD team leader in the Belgian army, said she joined the military at 16 and has served for 16 years, starting out as a combat engineer.
“I was in Lebanon on a humanitarian mission, helping EOD look for ammunition and searching and sweeping. They would blow up and neutralize the ammunition,” she said. “I said, ‘That’s what I need to do.’ It was great to help the people. I was at the schools, teaching them how to be aware of the ammunition, because they would find it in their gardens. EOD is an amazing job. I love it.”
Making a Difference
“I wanted to join the military for a really long time,” said Air Force Senior Airman Jared Basham, an EOD technician from Beale Air Force Base, California, who grew up in a military family. “My dad told me to check out EOD. During the time I was joining, IEDs were really the big problem — the No. 1 killer of troops — so I decided, ‘If I’m going to join the Air Force to make a difference, how about I pick a career field that’s really making a difference?'”
Air Force Senior Airman Alex Nona, an EOD technician from Travis Air Force Base, California, said the career field seemed right for his personality. “I’ve always been interested in and like to solve puzzles, and it seemed like a good puzzle to solve,” he explained. “It also fits my adrenaline junkie attitude, too.” said.
Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Brian Murphy, who’s assigned here, has been a Marine for 15 years, nine as an EOD technician.
“I originally came in as [military police] and did three deployments as EOD security in Iraq, and kind of fell in love with the job from what I saw they were doing,” he said. “It feels good to be able in some cases to actually quantify the amount of lives you’ve saved.”
In Afghanistan, he said, officials calculated the statistical relationship between numbers of IEDs and numbers of IED-related casualties. “It’s never certain,” he said, “but you could quantify how much of a difference you’ve made in the mission.”
Another Marine who’s assigned here and is participating in Raven’s Challenge has spent the last four years of his 10 years in the Marine Corps as an EOD technician
“I love this so much,” Staff Sgt. Adam Bradach said. “Everybody else out here feels the same way. We’re doing what we love, and we’re having a good time and learning at the same time. We wouldn’t do anything else. We’re just having fun.”
The service branches have initial EOD training that ranges from six months to a year. After that, training continues as service members develop the skills and experience necessary to be team leaders and to adapt to the threat as it evolves.
Throughout the exercise here, each member of each team had the chance to be the team leader for each scenario.
“There’s a lot of training that goes into continuing to develop and mature your skills before you can become an EOD team leader,” said Col. David Schmitt, the Army’s adaptive counter-IED/EOD solutions division chief at the Pentagon. “You’ll see a mix on the teams where there will be a team leader and one or two team members. We’ve invested more time and training both at home station and also special schools to get him or her to that level where they can take on that role and responsibility. But it’s a constant process, and if you don’t continue to work and train, things change constantly.”
Noncombat Mission Sets
Chief Master Sgt. Douglas Moore, EOD career field manager for the Air Force, noted that because the focus has been on wartime missions over the past 16 years, the EOD career field needs to get back to basics.
“It’s probably fair to say across all of the services that we’ve maybe degraded our capability across the other mission sets,” he said. For the Air Force, we’re responsible for airfield clearances, aircraft recovery — those kinds of missions — and we’ve gotten away from that. So now, we’re trying to get back to basics, kind of level the playing field across all 10 core mission areas of the Air Force EOD community. “We want to make sure we’re not just focusing on combat operations, and that’s one thing the [Raven’s Challenge exercises] are doing. It’s focusing more on domestic IED conventional operations. We have to take different things into account when we’re operating in those kinds of environments.”
About 60 percent of the Air Force’s EOD airmen have never deployed, Moore noted. The career field has had a significant turnover of its total force, he added, so exercises like Raven’s Challenge are critical.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for them,” he said. “It’s all about training and equipping our forces so they can do what they need to do and do it in the safest manner possible while protecting the public, property and human life.”
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Ault, an EOD technician based at Travis, said the IED threat is the biggest threat at home and abroad, so learning to work with other services and agencies helps in developing individual technicians’ skill sets and in enhancing the ability of people from different services and public-safety agencies to work together when they need to.
“Any opportunities like this for us to train and get better is going to allow us to better protect the people we love both on military installations, as a military family, our brothers and sisters in arms, and also those off the installations — the American people we take great pride in protecting,” he said. “By supporting the EOD community, he added, taxpayers are making an investment not only in the people who fight the IED threat, but also in their own personal safety.
“Big scale exercises like this are worthwhile,” he said. “They’re in the best interest of the American people.”