By Air National Guard Capt. Kinder Blacke, 140th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 24, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- The Explosive Ordnance Disposal team from the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, put on a show at Airburst Range on Friday, July 12, demonstrating several of their capabilities for an audience of some of their fans.
Four members of the Denver Broncos and a handful of other spectators joined to watch the EOD team "blow stuff up" as part of their monthly training requirements.
"It was great bringing Lt. Garland (Broncos offensive lineman and COANG member) and his fellow players out with us, and we were able to get some good training in the process," said Tech. Sgt. Andrew "AJ" LeBeau, resource manager, 140th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight. "Our flight is newly back in business and bringing those guys out was a lot of fun and a great way to get the word out that we're building up our team again."
Recently, the wing's EOD program was threatened due to a lack in funding from the National Guard Bureau. Fortunately, the Colorado Air National Guard was able to secure funding for their program and is in the process of building a robust EOD crew.
Conducting a "Demo Day" was a good way for the 140 EOD Flight to expose community members to their career field in a loud way. Oftentimes, people fail to realize that the Air Force even has EOD capabilities, yet the COANG EOD technicians are an integral part of the EOD mission alongside their counterparts in the other services.
"I find it surprising how few people know that the Air Force has EOD, and that we are imbedded with ground forces," said LeBeau. "Going 'outside the wire' doesn't really apply to us; most deployments we reside on Forward Operating Bases or are out on patrols the entire time."
According to LeBeau, in deployed locations, EOD technicians support ground troops, primarily U.S. Army and Marines as well as foreign militaries, destroying enemy explosive stockpiles and defeating IED networks. Stateside their main missions include aircraft support, responding in support of local bomb squads, and training. All of these missions are inherently very dangerous.
Airmen in the EOD career field unfortunately have to cope with inevitable sacrifice... losing their sister and brother EOD techs.
"I would say that the worst part of the job is seeing all the people in the same career field that are killed or injured doing our job," said Airman 1st Class Darrell Linkus, 140 EOD team member.
However, the number of people the EOD techs prevent from being killed or injured is innumerable.
"It's intense, but we save lives," says LeBeau. "Every explosive we remove or destroy allows people to carry on their normal lives, or in a warzone, live to fight another day."
The EOD team's mission is truly critical. "As an EOD Operator we perform various duties that include locating, accessing, identifying, rendering safe, neutralizing, and disposing of hazards from foreign and domestic, conventional, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high yield explosives (CBRNE), unexploded explosive ordnance (UXO), improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and weapons of mass destruction (WMD that present a threat to operations, installations, personnel, or material)," explained Linkus.
There are technically nine different mission areas for EOD: Aerospace Vehicle Launch and Recovery, Force Protection, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Nuclear Weapon Incident/Accident, Unexploded Explosive Ordnance Recovery, Range Clearance, Mortuary Services, Federal Agency and Civil Authority Support, and Base Populace Training.
All that being said, "the simplest definition of an EOD tech is we mitigate explosive hazards," said LeBeau. "We do a job that scares most people, but we work and train very hard to ensure we complete our mission as safely as possible."
While it may seem like an exciting mission, this job is not for the faint of heart or will. Just making it through training to become a qualified EOD operator is a huge challenge. The school boasts an eighty percent dropout rate.
"Tech school for EOD is very long and extremely stressful," said Linkus, who graduated from the program in February 2013 and is the wing's newest EOD team member.
Candidates begin in a 5-week selection school at Sheppard AFB where instructors screen the new EOD recruits to determine who will be best-suited for the career field. "The initial school is filled with very challenging tests both physically and mentally, ranging from the standard Air Force fitness test to timed ruck marches with up to eighty pounds of weight that you have to carry for miles," said Linkus.
After passing the preliminary school, candidates continue on to Eglin AFB for the Naval School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal, referred to as NAVSCOLEOD, which is broken down into nine divisions, all lasting about a month.
The divisions cover every aspect of explosives from CONUS and OCONUS IED response to all military ordnance, both US and foreign, as well as Chemical and Nuclear weapons.
"The school is challenging for many reasons," Linkus explained. "There is a lot of information that is covered in the school. We were taking up to one hundred pages of hand written notes a week and due to the sensitivity of the information that we deal with, nothing is taken home to study-- all studying takes place at the school house."
And students must study a lot. There are 54 tests throughout the ten month course and sometimes students take three to four tests a week. The 16-hour days and intense physical training five days a week leads to a consistently high stress level, according to Linkus.
"In my opinion, the school was one of the hardest things that I have gone through and I believe the school is hard for a reason with the EOD career field," Linkus said. "In real world situations with explosives, we do not get a second chance to do things right and that is why we must strive for excellence in the school house. After all, the EOD motto is 'Initial Success or Total Failure'."
While it is extremely tough to get through the training, "becoming an EOD tech is extremely rewarding," said LeBeau. "We're looking for people who are highly motivated, determined, and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals."
Since the training is so rigorous, only the best of the best make it to the end to become certified EOD technicians. Then through the course of conducting real world missions together, both on deployments and at home, the EOD techs inevitably become a tightknit community, which both LeBeau and Linkus say is one of the greatest benefits.
"The best part of my job is the people that I work around," said Linkus. "Being a civilian firefighter for seven years, I enjoy the brotherhood, camaraderie, and teamwork that come from such a close knit career field. EOD is the same as the Fire Service in that aspect."
The bond that the four men in the 140 EOD Flight share is obvious after spending only a short time with them, and their battlefield stories help explain why. The visitors who got an inside perspective of the EOD team's work were greatly impressed and everyone agreed it was a great day on the range.
In summary, Linkus added, "having the Broncos out for demo day was a lot of fun and it is always cool to show people what we do and see them have a good time blowing stuff up!"