December 11, 2013, YUMA, Ariz. – “Lord of power and might, whose mercy is everlasting, guard and guide those who place their lives in the balance to ensure the safety of those nearby.” – Rev. Carl Bergstrom, Explosive Ordnance Disposal prayer
Over the last decade, the face of modern warfare has evolved. Terms like IED (improvised explosive device), HME (homemade explosives) and UXO (unexploded ordnance) have become synonymous with the growing threat facing today’s service member.
In the Marine Corps, locating and disarming these threats is the responsibility of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams, such as the EOD Marines stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Due to the unforgiving nature of their operational demands, these Marines complete a rigorous training regimen and continuously update their ever adapting and developing skills.
The EOD complex building aboard MCAS Yuma serves as the staging ground for various types of training sessions each year. One of those recent training evolutions ran the unit through a real time simulated scenario involving an explosive chemical, biological, radiological and/or nuclear (CBRN) response call.
“We usually do a large event like this about once a year,” said Staff Sgt. Spencer Meyer, a Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron training staff non-commissioned officer explosive ordnance technician. “Then we’ll do smaller, refresher training throughout the year – Mostly to keep it in our mind, keep it fresh.”
A makeshift explosives lab was set up with scenario-specific equipment made available for the participating Marines. The preparation, manpower and overall depth of the scenario made for a unique and invaluable learning experience for all of the EOD technicians involved.
A clutter of clothes, empty boxes and various bottles differing in size, shape, and color were strewn about a relatively ordinary room. Tables were lined haphazardly around the area with barrels, propane tanks and a wall locker serving as blockades. A musty, dark atmosphere hung in the air – feeding the sense of unknown that EOD technicians the world over are familiar with.
“We set it up in order to give them a realistic viewpoint of how an urban clandestine lab may look. A lot of labs are messy and a lot of the individuals who use, or employ, clandestine labs aren’t worried about how their stuff is laid out,” said Robby Thayer, a logistics analyst with Science Applications International Corporation’s mobile training team. “Of course, we put various obstacles in the Marines’ way. We set up blocks so they didn’t just send their robot in there – forcing them to utilize their PPE [personal protective equipment].”
Identifying important variables in the room, donning the appropriate PPE and correctly employing the various tools at their disposal was an essential part of the day’s training.
A motorized robot, handheld chemical detectors, decision support tablets and an array of different CBRN electronic counter measure equipment were all at the ready. However, the most important tool utilized was the knowledge and experience of the seasoned EOD Marine.
“The last place you want to learn how to do something is at an actual incident,” said Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Bateman, the H&HS EOD operations chief and a native of San Gabriel, Calif. “In-country, and against any kind of terrorist system, it’s a chess game – they change something, we change something; and we always try to be as many moves ahead of them as we can.”
Both at home and abroad, the threat of biological and chemical warfare is a present reality. During the exercise, CBRN Marines from Marine Aircraft Group 13 Headquarters, MCAS Yuma, were present to observe and provide feedback on the scenario. The unpredictable nature of contemporary battlefields dictates it’s highly likely that both units may work together in a real life situation one day.
“I thought it went pretty good. The EOD guys, for it not being their specific job, are very good at what they do over there,” said Sgt. Steven Myher, a MAG-13 HQ CBRN defense specialist. “It is good for units to be able to train and operate together. Right now, they’ve got gear that we at station CBRN don’t have at our disposal – but with us working together, if it ever came time to address a real life situation – this cross training would make everything that much more efficient to accomplish the mission.”
First responders are vital to precarious hazardous material situations; particularly when a potential terrorist explosive element is added into the fold. The different teams and units dispatched to handle particular cases vary from circumstance to circumstance.
There’s no way to anticipate every scenario. Standard operating procedures are ever evolving, always adapting and constantly changing to meet the challenges posed by America’s enemy.
Ultimately, though there are plenty of technological advances and tools to help guide them along the way, it is the experience of a knowledgeable EOD Marine that is the core of their success – knowledge that training exercises continue to help develop in new team members and leaders through the perilous world of EOD.