HILL AIR FORCE BASE — After 12 long years, the Air Force’s explosive ordnance disposal work is officially over in Afghanistan, but it’s a bittersweet milestone for the community of Hill Air Force Base.
Pentagon officials announced earlier this month that the Air Force’s EOD mission in Afghanistan is now finished. The last of six EOD flights left Kandahar, Afghanistan on Sept. 11 and later arrived at the Deployment Transition Center on Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Since EOD teams responded to the first explosive incident report in Afghanistan on Sept. 27, 2002, airmen have completed 19,847 missions, responded to 6,546 improvised explosive devices, conducted 2,665 post blast analyses, and executed 5,093 unexploded ordnance incident responses. Airmen from Air Force EOD crews have received more than 100 Purple Hearts for their actions and service in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the success of the Air Force EOD mission has come at a big cost, with 20 airmen — 12 in Afghanistan and 8 in Iraq —making the ultimate sacrifice, being killed in action.
Four of those killed while removing explosives came from Hill. Tech. Sgt. Timothy Weiner, Senior Airman Daniel Miller and Senior Airman Elizabeth Loncki were all killed together in Iraq on Jan. 7, 2007. The trio was trying to defuse a car bomb and it exploded.
Tech. Sgt. Kristoffer Solesbee was killed May 26, 2011, in Afghanistan when enemy forces attacked his EOD unit.
Maj. Kyle Kruger, commander of Hill’s EOD Flight, said the four EOD warriors are memorialized on base on a monument known as the “Hall of Heroes.”
“We walk past their memorials every day we come to work and we’re reminded of the danger of the EOD career field,” Kruger said. “We honor them by continuing the mission, wherever it may take us next.”
Master Sgt. Kevin Hammer, Hill AFB’s EOD Flight superintendent, was roommates with Solesbee at EOD school and was in Afghanistan the same time his longtime friend died.
“I was in Afghanistan when he was killed and had the honor of escorting him (back home),” Hammer said. “It was a very humbling experience. Every EOD technician knows and accepts the risks involved with our mission. We don’t do it for glory, medals or accolades — we do it because we know that every mission completed means that someone’s husband, wife, father, mother, son or daughter will be able to return home to his or her family safely, even if it means we might never see our family again.”
Solsbee’s mother, Sandra Parker, said there isn’t a day that goes by where she doesn’t think deeply about her son.
“Our lives have changed drastically since the day Kristoffer was killed,” Parker said. “Birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s days, and holidays will never be the same. At times, emotions run high and there have been many tears. We really miss Kristoffer, but at the same time, we are very proud of him and his service to our country.”