Air Force EOD embeds with Army units, part 1: Reservist team leader

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeff Walston
  • 506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
Airmen from all walks of life in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal community answered the call when the Army asked for help in the joint effort against IEDs, thus again ensuring Air Force boots were on the ground and in the fight.

"Our primary (tactical control) mission (with) the Army is to clear IEDs, whether it's roadside bombs on supply routes targeting Coalition Forces or in the city targeting civilians," said Senior Master Sgt. Al Schneider, 506th EOD flight superintendent. "We also do post-blast analysis, collect (evidence) and come up with ways to counter (insurgent tactics)."

EOD is an inherently dangerous job and requires months of training before an operator is ready for the battlefield.

Airmen learn about many different types of ordnance, such as bombs, projectiles, landmines and grenades at the Navy EOD school at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. There, they learn how to use specialized EOD tools in order to render hazardous ordnance safe, said Tech. Sgt. Michael Shumate, 506th EOD Battle NCO. The eight-month school culminates with instruction on chemical and biological weapons, aircraft and their explosive hazards, IEDs and finally nuclear studies.

The majority of the training really starts when they get to the flights, said Sergeant Schneider. That is where they build their experience, he said.

At any time, members of the 506th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron /EOD flight could find themselves forward deployed to one of several forward-operating bases working with the Army, according to Sergeant Schneider.

"We deploy teams out to other geographically separated units in the 10th Mountain's area of operation. It keeps EOD teams on their toes," he said.

EOD Airmen supporting the counter-IED mission face additional challenges of living the Army life verses the one most Airmen are accustomed too.

"It makes sense to be embedded (with the Army)," said Tech. Sgt. Stephen Ray Hunter Jr., a team leader with 506th EOD flight. "Instead of waiting at the base to respond, we can take care of the item and they can keep pressing on."

Traditional reservists in the EOD career field face not only the challenge of less time and experience doing the job as some active-duty personnel, but also the added stress of family acceptance of a dangerous deployment.

"This is the first time I've encountered IEDs," said Sergeant Hunter, who is a traditional reservist deployed from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. "But, the training up to the deployment made me feel confident.

"I ensured my family how confident I feel about my skills," he said. "I know they worry, it's a dangerous job. But, they support me."

A team leader is responsible for ensuring all equipment is in order and team members are ready to perform the mission at a moment's notice. They coordinate with their Army security elements, while on scene, to ensure everyone is as safe as possible while the EOD team is in charge of neutralizing the roadside bomb.

"As a supervisor at home station, I try and make sure my Airmen are taken care of as far as their career goes, whether it's a college class, CDCs or whatever," Sergeant Hunter said. "I look out for them, keeping their morale up and making sure the deployment is a positive experience.

"The EOD community is being taxed really hard with deployments," he said. "I'm glad, as a reservist, I can participate in relieving some of that stress on the EOD community. That's huge.

"As a team, I feel we have participated in the effort to eliminate the insurgent threat here in Iraq, and hopefully turn the country back over to the Iraqi people so they can run Iraq without the threat of violence against them."