Military News

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Learned through blood

by Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez
JBER Public Affairs

2/2/2016 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska  -- If a person yells "bomb" in a crowded theater, most of the audience will disperse.

As chaos ensues, they will run for the exits with little in mind but to get as far away as possible.

While everyone flees, the explosive ordnance disposal technician approaches the site.

What proved to be a hazard and cause panic among so many is an opportunity for the EOD technician to put into play countless hours of training.

Members of the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight train tirelessly and are always on call to serve Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the surrounding community.

"When some sort of emergency response goes on - [whether it be an] issue with [hung] ordnance on an aircraft; or a suspect package at one of the gates; [or] explosive hazards found -during duty hours, or outside of duty hours, we'll respond," said Tech. Sgt.  Jason Halgren, an EOD Craftsman.

EOD is a career field full of hazards that have the potential for loss of life and property.

There is no simple mistake for an EOD technician. Attention to detail is just as necessary a tool as the bomb suits or robotics utilized.

"There's a sense of urgency because there is something that's dangerous and could potentially hurt people," said Halgren. "That's where the training kicks in and you're in that mindset and getting the job done."

Aside from responding to unexploded ordnance, an improvised explosive device or weapons of mass destruction, some EOD missions include providing Defense Support to Civil Authorities for explosive hazards found off the installation. EOD will also provide support to ensure safety during high-profile events and will assist the Secret Service to ensure the safety of the president, vice president and other heads of state.

Technical training for EOD is tough and demanding, where attrition rates are high, said Senior Airman Joshua Harris, an EOD journeyman.

"[It] was about 10 months long," Harris said. "It's designed to be stressful to help deal with those situations that you are going to be facing out in the real world - in a deployed environment [like] in combat downrange."

But the missions can present themselves at anytime and anywhere.

In 2011, Airmen disposed of a sea mine that washed up on the Alaska shore, north of Sitka.

After X-raying the mine, EOD technicians could see where the explosive material inside was. They then placed the plastic explosive to destroy it.

In 2012, JBER Airmen traveled to the island of Adak in the Aleutian island chain to dispose of three World War II-era bombs. The mission spanned several months due to complications with weather.  But ultimately three bombs were excavated and disposed of.

But learning continues all the time. There are also opportunities for EOD technicians to learn from the actions of Airmen past and present, Halgren said.

"We keep the skill sets we learned through blood from Iraq and Afghanistan," Halgren said. "We've had a lot of people put up on the EOD memorial during the wars. That's what we refer to as 'learned through blood.' We learn from what's happened that got people killed as well as remember their life because they were all skilled, knowledgeable people. And [knowing they were] killed by a device proves that it can happen [to anyone]."

EOD technicians work in a unique field in that their service is not used on a daily basis. And while it is a necessary profession, nobody wants to need them - It means bad things were intended to, or can potentially, happen.

"[We] train near-daily to defeat explosive items, and we trust in our training that we are going to use that skill set to assess the situation and take care of it," Halgren said.

Should they do their job right, countless lives will be saved. Yet, EOD technicians remain faceless figures to the people they protect.

"Some of us get a sense of accomplishment whenever we get a call and prevent something from blowing up because we've protected people," Halgren said. "Not in the way doctors or police officers or medics do, but we've protected life - we've saved life - and people can go about their daily business afterwards."

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