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Air Force EOD defusing the threat of IEDs

By Trisha Gallaway | Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs | June 02, 2010

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- "Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!"

That's the rally cry for an elite group of Airmen who are working day in and day out to save the lives of their fellow Airmen and those around them, regardless if they are in the area of responsibility or here at home.

Who are these Airmen?

"Basically we are the military's bomb squad," said Master Sgt. Ronald Helgert, the team leader of the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron's explosive ordnance disposal flight here at Joint Base Charleston.

Their mission? To disarm bombs as quickly and as safely as possible.

How do they accomplish this mission? Through extensive training and the use of valuable, life-saving equipment.

The technical school these Airmen attend is a joint service school at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where they spend eight months learning the ins and outs of explosive ordnance disposal.

"The school consists of learning a little bit of basic electronics, learning how to use specific EOD tools to render safe ordnance items and EOD reconnaissance," said Sergeant Helgert, who has spent his entire 19-year Air Force career in the EOD Air Force Specialty Code. "Finally, it goes in depth on the specific ordnance items, from something as small as a bullet, to something as big as a nuclear bomb."
Members of the JB CHS bomb squad, like Tech. Sgt. Marion Makins, who spent 14 years as a Navy EOD diver and the last four as an Air Force EOD technician, says the constant training keeps team members current and ready for any mission.

'We train to maintain a standard of excellence by knowing our job and doing it well," said Sergeant Makins. "Our training allows us to make mistakes, which we cannot make when protecting personnel and property on an actual EOD response. The training allows us to be the best and safest EOD technicians that we possibly can be."

As important as their training is, equally important are the tools they use to do their job.

The tool most vital to squad members are the robots they use.

"It's a lifesaver," said Sergeant Makins, "[The robot] is the thing that is going to give you an idea of what you are about to get into, instead of you going in blindly."

Equipped with three cameras, the robot allows the technicians to safely decide how to handle an unidentified object without having to address it while wearing the EOD-9, said Sergeant Makins.

The EOD-9, also known as the bomb suit, is used as protection from a blast in the event a device detonates. The suit is built with hard plates in the front to protect the core of the body and the helmet is made with impact resistant glass to protect the head. Once on, the technician is carrying an additional 70 to 80 pounds on their body.

"[Wearing the bomb suit] puts more strain on you because now you're not just going down working on an item," said Tech. Sgt. Janae Shanks, a member of the EOD flight. "You have to make sure that you're capable of carrying the extra weight while maintaining your mobility."

According to Sergeant Shanks, to date, no one has ever died while wearing the EOD-9 suit.

"The tools [we use] are very important in completing our job in stressful and strenuous situations," said Sergeant Makins. "Without having a skilled and trained EOD technician, the tools are useless. Train, train, train, and we will complete the mission."

With the current shift in focus to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the mission for those EOD technicians deploying to Iraq has changed.

Team members are now performing EOD partnership missions, meaning, they are training Iraqi EOD personnel how to be self-sufficient, so they can continue the EOD mission after American forces have left the area of responsibility.

Our EOD teams [have] taught [the Iraqi's] everything from basic explosive effects, ordnance recognition, EOD tool knowledge and procedures as well as evidence preservations," said Sergeant Helgert.

When members of the flight are not deployed, in addition to the training they conduct, they occasionally will respond to incidents both on and off base.

"We always have a team on standby 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week to handle any on or off base responses," said Sergeant Helgert.

In order for the base EOD team to respond to an off-base call, such as ones regarding civil war era cannon balls and other military ordnance, civilian bomb squads have to request for the flights assistance and must be approved through the proper chain of command, said Sergeant Helgert.

"Once coordination and approval comes in, the team responds with the EOD equipment to take care of the situation."

Both at home and abroad, EOD members are putting their lives on the line to ensure the safety of their brothers in arms as well as innocent civilians.

"This job is kind of dangerous," said Sergeant Helgert. "But we're trained to do the job."

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