EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Boom!
A three-person explosive ordnance disposal team approached a bomb-laden vehicle with two hostages inside. As they reach the car, a hidden device explodes damaging the leg of one of their own. What does the team do next?
This was just one of many difficult scenarios EOD Airmen encountered during this year’s EOD Warfighter Challenge here.
The two-week, situation-based challenge was created last year by the 96th Civil Engineer Group’s EOD flight Airmen. The Airmen provided the unique opportunity for Air Force EOD units, outside of pre-deployment training, to train and learn from each other. The training preceded then followed in two rotations, the annual EOD Memorial ceremony at the Naval EOD School May 5.
More than 90 Airmen from over 20 Air Force EOD units attended during the two weeks. The unit interest and success of last year’s week-long event were greater than expected.
“The response was so overwhelming we needed another week to handle the demand,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Burke, EOD Warfighter Challenge creator with the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron.
The event’s goal was to hone the Airmen’s EOD and problem-solving skills with new environments, setups, gear and situations they may never see while training at their home station. Eglin’s range area, formally used to train deploying security forces Airmen, was the site of the urban and village environments of the scenarios.
“The more realistic and challenging we can make the situations, the more the Airmen will take away from it and remember when it is real,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Bodner, 96th EOD flight.
Another goal of the Warfighter Challenge was to provide opportunities for upgrading Airmen to perform in lead positions within the EOD team of three.
“You have to see the situation differently and think about the whole team and what actions are required to keep not just yourself, but your team safe. I hadn’t seen that side of it until now,” said Senior Airman Aaron Parris, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron, who acted as an EOD team lead for the first time during the exercise.
The teams encountered at least three scenarios per day. There were multiple improvised explosive device problems within each scenario the Airmen would solve along with human elements and equipment limitations. Each situation had numerous ways to solve each problem. It fell to the Airmen to determine the best and safest solution.
The situations varied from pressure plates to a pipe-bomb around a victim’s neck, to vehicle-borne IEDs, road-side bombs and a mock-electronics store filled with so many electrical parts that anything could be an IED. There was also a scenario with a simulated-bomb strapped to a non-English speaking victim. In that situation, the victim would franticly try, but could not provide the EOD technician any information to help them.
The mental and physical puzzles of the scenario training were only part of the Warfighter Challenge. The networking effects of one of the largest gatherings of EOD Airmen at once had rippling effects through the career field.
Attendees passed along various personal and unit-related lessons learned, equipment benefits and countless ways of mission improvement. That newly-gained, know-how is taken back and passed along and implemented.
At last year’s event for example, a piece of equipment for the technicians’ night vision was deemed a ‘must have’ by the exercise’s attendees. The request was processed and with a few months, the new gear was added to the standard equipment required for all Air Force EOD technicians.
“This is larger for us than just these exercises. There’s so much more being accomplished,” said Capt. Cory McCart, Eglin’s EOD flight commander. “We are helping to improve the Airmen who attend and by extension their units, the career field and our mission as a whole.”