AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy (AFNS) – Every explosive ordnance disposal mission can be lethal, considering EOD technicians must locate, identify and disarm explosives, of which there are thousands of possible variations our enemies can use.
Such an intense burden could push Airmen to the edge, but instead Aviano Air Base’s 31st Civil Engineer Squadron EOD Airmen look relaxed. Through extensive training, these Airmen know their experiences and knowledge are their best weapons when they enter the battlefield.
“It isn’t like we don’t know that what we do is dangerous,” said Senior Airman Sam Bassin, an EOD journeyman. “But we don’t need to focus on that when we have a job to do. We do training exercises that (depict) what we see in the field, so we can treat a mission like any other day on the job.”
EOD Airmen spend the majority of their time with their noses in the books. They spend the rest of their time with their faces in the dirt during practical application exercises to reach a level of comfort in a high-stress, real-world environment, said Tech. Sgt. Tyler Aldridge, an EOD operations and training section chief.
“Working toward that mindset doesn’t happen overnight,” Aldridge said. “We go through a six-month training cycle, focusing on different topics each month. We train three days out of the week or more to meet the requirements set forth in our training schedule.”
Aldridge said a typical training month begins with a classroom portion. Airmen take turns leading the different training topics to further familiarize themselves with the multiple subjects involved in EOD, since they will be drilled with questions from career field veterans and new arrivals.
“(Everyone) should be able to train others, whether they are new (to the career field) or not because we need everyone to be sharp on every mission,” Aldridge said. “A fresh look from a new Airman or an experienced perspective from a seasoned (senior) NCO could be the difference between life or death in the field. If those new guys don’t know what to look for, or the older Airmen forget their core knowledge, it could be a bad day for the technician in front of a bomb.”
After filling their brains with maneuvers, cordon lengths, and numerous example scenarios for the first half of the month, the team begins practical application exercises.
“We do whatever we can to make our training as realistic as possible,” Aldridge explained. “We have a lot of different (unexploded ordnance) training dummies, fake weapons and emptied explosives to choose from, which keeps the guys on their toes.”
It can be a challenge trying to replicate the scenarios EOD Airmen see in the field, but the team uses creative tools to keep the pressure on trainees.
“We can sometimes load a fake grenade with talcum powder and a small, harmless charge,” said Tech. Sgt. Lawrence Miller, the EOD training NCO in charge. “Adding those elements and providing the (trainee) with vague mission reports raises the bar and better (represents) the conditions they’ll experience in a real-world environment.”
Additionally, the whole team works together to keep trainees off-balance in an effort to build their skills.
“Sometimes, a group will form as (an Airman) performs his training, which can be stressful since you have your leaders and peers looking over your shoulder,” said Staff Sgt. James Wagnild, an EOD training NCO. “This is another (important) part of the training. If someone can’t take the pressure, then they could choke in a much more serious environment, which is the last thing we want.”
With the practical portion of the training complete, the team returns to the classroom for the next topic. The trend continues, month after month, to keep the Airmen sharp and ready for any situation.
“Our job doesn’t allow room to doubt our skills or second-guess our decisions,” Aldridge said. “As long as you know your training and apply it, there is no reason to fear for your life.”