EOD flight saves lives … one explosion at a time

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Raymond Geoffroy
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
We've all heard the old adage of fighting fire with fire, but the Airmen of Vandenberg's 30th Civil Engineer Squadron's explosive ordnance disposal flight take the concept to a whole new level.

Armed with nerves of steel, advanced robots and copious amounts of explosives, these Airmen render safe explosives that could potentially threaten the lives of civilians and servicemembers alike, both at home and overseas.

While the idea of tracking down and blowing up explosive devices may sound like a blast, it is a serious business.

"One mistake and we don't come home," said EOD technician Staff Sgt. Robert Butler. "Usually when you're dealing with large explosives it's not just us that gets hurt."

EOD technicians on Vandenberg train regularly for just that reason. In doing so, they build the experience and skill necessary to swiftly identify, assess and neutralize a dangerous device before it can harm them or anyone else.

"We have to be extremely proficient with explosives so that out there we don't waste time screwing around and getting killed," said EOD technician Senior Airman Lindsey Ahonen.

On Vandenberg, EOD is often called up to dispose of a myriad unexploded ordnance (UXOs) found throughout the base left behind from its days as Camp Cooke, an Army training base used extensively from World War II through the Korean War. These less-than-welcome reminders of Vandenberg's history can range in size from simple hand grenades to large artillery shells and bombs.

Finding such devices on base can become a regular occurrence; this year alone EOD has disposed of 65 UXOs on base. That being said, no mission is truly routine. Take for example the 500 pound bomb discovered about a month ago buried a few hundred yards away for Vandenberg's newly renovated Space Launch Complex-3. With extreme caution, the team destroyed the bomb and preserved a space lift asset critical to national security.

On top of the important mission these Airmen carry out at Vandenberg, the EOD flight also play a vital role in the deployed setting.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, Vandenberg EOD technicians risk life and limb to reduce the threat of enemy improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They perform this task by destroying weapon caches, actively sweeping highways for roadside bombs, analyzing and neutralizing IEDs and even by helping in efforts to arrest insurgents involved in the production and placement of these weapons.

"We're hunting the guys who place them," said Sergeant Butler. "But more importantly, we're hunting the guys who make them. We've been pretty successful."

While deployed, danger is a regular part of an EOD technician's job. Occasionally these Airmen find themselves directly threatened by the very same weapons they are trained to eliminate.

"During our last deployment, we were blown up 13 times, twice on our vehicle," said Sergeant Butler. "But it wasn't bad enough to take us out of the fight."

Despite these dangers, the personnel of Vandenberg's EOD flight are making a positive impact in the War on Terror. During his first deployment, Sergeant Butler's 30-man team disposed of approximately 500,000 pieces of ordnance. On his latest tour, he and Airman Ahonen rendered safe 60 IEDs and several more weapon caches over the course of 312 combat missions. As a result, insurgent forces are stuck resorting to creating their own explosives rather than relying on prefabricated artillery rounds and mortar they would commonly use in IEDs.

"That's both good and bad," said Sergeant Butler. "Sometimes they don't know what they're doing and it doesn't work, or they blow themselves up."

Even with all the large numbers, evolving trends and complicated statistics surround the job these Airmen perform. Vandenberg's EOD flight tries to keep the concept simple.

"Every IED that we safe is one more U.S. servicemember that comes home," Sergeeant Butler said.

With that selfless credo in mind, Vandenberg's EOD technicians continue to train and work hard, knowing that someday in the near future they may be called upon to save lives by fighting fire with fire.