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NEWS | July 14, 2010

Vigilant warriors, constant servants

By 2nd Lt Susan Carlson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. and Coalition Airmen, Soldiers and Marines deaths since the beginning of 2010 have been by improvised explosive devises alone. Additionally, just this year, more than 250 Afghan civilians have had their lives cut short by IED's, making it the deadliest war activity in today's fight. In a month where our nation celebrated its 234th year of independence, let us not forget those who gave their all to maintain that freedom and the men and women who continue to put their lives on the line for that same cause.

"Can you imagine if our country had vehicles rolling through because of all the terrorism?" asks Staff Sgt. Christopher Ferrell, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician here on Joint Base Charleston. "It's so easy to forget why we have these freedoms - all the people that have been killed in the line of duty just for you to be able to take your family out to eat, for you to play with your kid to the park without worry of any real terrorism happening here."

Sergeant Ferrell is a member of the small Air Force EOD community made up of more than 900 brave men and women. They work endlessly, day in and day out doing a job that not many know about or recognize, but that saves hundreds of lives each day. Their main focus in every theater of operation, either deployed or at home, is disarming and rendering harmless any type of explosive devise - not your every day desk job.

Despite the small percentage of EOD operators in the active duty Air Force, they leave a huge footprint in deployed operations. One single IED can take out three to four individuals when it detonates, and many EOD technicians have more than 100 IEDs they have personally disarmed. The potential number of lives saved becomes overwhelming.

"The numbers are astronomical when you marry up the number of IEDs disarmed to the amount of lives saved by EOD operators doing the job nobody else wants to do," said Sergeant Ferrell.

Not only is the IED threat the main killer of Coalition personnel in both the Iraq and Afghanistan theater of operations, but also of the local nationals, said Sergeant Ferrell. The perpetrators target not only the military forces but also innocent civilians, thus making the EOD job even more difficult.

"We have to be objective running these missions, we can't just help ourselves, and we don't want civilian populace there killed at all," Sergeant Ferrell said.

Despite the challenges, the EOD technicians continue to do their job to the best of their ability with each call. Whether at home or abroad, with each call for a job they receive, either life or property are in jeopardy. Whenever they are requested, by U.S. military or local nationals, there is a credible threat, where something bad is going to happen or already has happened.

It is not uncommon for the majority of EOD operators working together to have experienced a bomb detonating near them, tossing them every which way like rag dolls. It is an eerie experience, with a silence after the blast where everything around you slows down, Sergeant Ferrell recalls; it feels like forever, but in reality lasts only a couple seconds.

"Everything gets back to reality after a blast and then it's just fast, back to work, everyone is looking towards you because an IED went off, they look to you to make it better, make it safe, and that's what we do," he said.

These strong groups of individuals, across all four services, hold up phenomenally well, dealing with the horrific sights and sounds that come within the fog of war.

"I'm so blessed to work with this quiet group of individuals who are able to do this day in day out and are able to deal with this, even though they have seen things nobody should ever see," Sergeant Ferrell said.

The EOD community becomes very close knit because of the small numbers, and they form a brotherhood amongst themselves. EOD becomes a huge part of their lives, and every loss within the career field is traumatic for the entire community.

"We lost two of our guys who gave their lives in the line of duty," Sergeant Ferrell said. "Many people will never remember their name again after they've seen it once, because nobody else talks about it."

It is an injustice to these unsung heroes, these men who are making a quiet but incredibly large footprint in the wars we are currently engaged in. Airmen like Tech. Sgt Tony Campbell and Tech. Sgt. Adam Ginett, the two men on Sergeant Ferrell's team who laid down their lives so that others may live.

"I truly believe that without Tony's sacrifice, we all would have been killed in that blast," Sergeant Ferrell said about that fateful day last December. "Any one of us would trade spots with him, but he wouldn't have it any other way, that's the kind of thing that makes it worthwhile, guys like Tony and Adam."

These are just two names of hundreds of others that have gone before them, giving the ultimate sacrifice but saving countless lives along the way. EOD becomes a family, their road to war is quick, and when they are gone, they think about families at home, but also about the family they are deployed with.

"The camaraderie that's involved and the character of the people I am blessed to work with are very rewarding, and you'll never find job satisfaction like this, it's something that will stick with me forever," Sergeant Ferrell said, "With the bond we have, we don't want to leave until everybody goes home."

As we enjoy our day-to-day freedoms, it is important to remember those heroes who have died to keep them safe as well as thank the unsung heroes that continue walk amongst us.

For more information on EOD and honoring their fallen comrades please visit