DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
Several explosive ordnance disposal technicians watch an object from behind a blue-green chain-link fence. A small flame emerges behind the device, and a cloud of smoke forms. Moments later, fire spits out as the object ruptures, sending a thud into the earth and kicking up a plume of dirt.
The Airmen standing watch proceed inside of the fence’s walls, verifying everything is safe. After clearing the area, the team cleans up and heads back to the office, having accomplished the day’s training objective.
The daily training objectives help Airmen maintain proficiency in all aspects of the EOD division’s mission within the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron.
The division’s main objective is to safely remove explosive arms from threatening the populace and buildings within a given area of responsibility. To accomplish this, EOD Airmen must possess knowledge in multiple fields, including proficiency in academics and combat operations, to ensure they’re not a liability to their team.
“Protecting people, property, evidence and returning the situation back to normal is overarching through all our mission sets,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Wnuk, 436th CES noncommissioned officer in charge of plans and intelligence. “We have our hands in a lot of areas; however, our number one focus [is] the aircraft and the flight line, but we have other things to focus on, too. Kind of like a jack-of-all-trades.”
The 436th CES EOD division supports distinguished visitor events; chemical, biological and unexploded ordnance response; mortuary operations; improvised explosive device response; post-blast analysis; nuclear range missions; weapons of mass destruction and aircraft support. Furthermore, its realm of responsibility extends beyond the base to the surrounding local area.
To successfully remove different types of explosives, EOD teams keep a wide variety of tools handy, including robots, bomb suits and x-ray devices, which allow for detailed analysis of a vast array of explosives.
“With [the] robot, it is kind of like playing video games, because that’s essentially what you’re doing,” said Wnuk. “The more you practice, the better you get. The more you are able to do with just the robot, makes everyone involved that much safer.”
The equipment and tools required to operate in the EOD career field are impressive. As such, many EOD candidates never make it to the operational field, since the graduation rate for EOD technical training is low.
“I believe, currently, the attrition rate is around 80 percent,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Vitale, 436th CES EOD craftsman. “About two out of every 10 people make it from basic training through the schoolhouse.”
EOD tech school is held at Eglin AFB, Florida, and trains the entire Department of Defense in EOD operations. Wnuk said EOD school was all about teamwork, and many students maintain relationships developed in the schoolhouse, even downrange.
Long days of academics, testing and exercise – for nine months – is just the tip of the iceberg for these Airmen. According to Vitale, the rest of the training begins upon reaching their respective units, where they can apply their newfound skills and recently forged levels of fitness.
“Transitioning into the operational world after tech school was nerve-racking,” said Vitale. “If you completed EOD school, you were very aware of the sacrifices EOD persons have made, as well as knowing the shoes you would need to fill would be big.”
Vitale added that, during technical training, there were two to three-hour workouts, six days a week. They also occasionally trained inside bomb suits to increase workout intensity and quell potential claustrophobia.
With the Air Force rolling out the new Tier 2 physical fitness test, EOD Airmen must complete more components than a regular Air Force physical fitness assessment. Deadlifts, farmers’ carries and pull-ups are just a few additional mandates on the Tier 2 test. This requires EOD Airmen to remain in optimum physical condition through daily physical exercise.
Wnuk said EOD Airmen at Dover AFB routinely perform aerobic exercises and weight training in their personal gym. Not only does this exercise regimen keep members in shape, but it brings them closer together as a whole.
This tight-knit EOD community shares strong bonds not only with each other but with other members of the EOD career field across the DoD.
“There’s only roughly 1,100 of us in the Air Force at a given time, and throughout the four services, there’s probably less than 10,000 of us,” said Wnuk. “We’re almost like a family.”
Wnuk stated, the culture of family, started in technical training and built through shared experiences in the operational field, plays a crucial role in trust and support when dealing with the dangers of EOD, both at home and deployed.
“You have to trust your team. They become your family when you’re out deployed, TDY [or on the] range,” said Wnuk. “There’s a great feeling that comes with knowing that your teammates have your best interests [in mind], because their survival also hinges on yours a lot of times.”