America has been reminded, following recent events at the Boston Marathon, of the terrible havoc that explosives can wreak on innocent bystanders.
There is an elite group of airmen that has been trained to try and prevent such tragedies and to protect fellow personnel in the field at the Dover Air Force Base. The 436th Civil Engineering Squadron's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight is made up of 17 members, all specially trained to neutralize the threat of ordnances at home and abroad.
According to Lt. Col. Charles O. Kelm it takes a special kind of person to be part of the EOD.
"Anyone who runs towards an incident has a special type of character," Kelm said. "EOD people are special."
For someone to become an EOD technician, they first must make it through basic training like anyone else joining the Air Force, they then attend special training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where they learn how to identify and neutralize explosives. The school is incredibly rigorous.
"I started in a class of 31 and I graduated in a class of four," said Christopher Adjoodani. "It takes between two and four years and costs $1 million to train someone to do this."
Once an airman graduates from EOD training, they spend the next year as an apprentice at their station where they work alongside a team leader to hone the skills they'll need to succeed. The EOD works a lot with four major pieces of equipment: remote controlled robots, hook and line kits, portable X-rays and bomb suits.
While at home, EOD technicians are called out when suspicious packages are found on base, work in mortuary services to remove any ordinance or pieces of ordinance0 that come in with bodies, support agencies like the FBI, State Department, Secret Service and Department of Defense. They also help recover and neutralize any unexploded ordnance that happen to be found in their territory, which spans the Delmarva Peninsula and the Chesapeake Bay.
Unexploded ordnance sometimes is found at Sea Watch International, a clam processing plant in Milford. Their fishermen often dig up explosives during their clamming. Staff Sgt. Ben McGovern explained that the reason ordnances are found off the coast so often is because up until 1907 when the U.S. Department of Defense had unwanted ordnance, they simply dumped them a few hundred miles off the coast. What they didn't know was that the tides pulled many of the explosives back toward shore.
According to McGovern, the Dover EOD team has been called out to the coast to deal with everything from Civil War cannon balls to grenades and mustard gas canisters.
They also handle tasks like diffusing improvised explosive devises and other types of explosives, clearing active bomb and gunnery ranges.
Page 2 of 2 - "It's hard to get bored at this job. Every OP is different," Adjoodani said.
The EOD team uses four major pieces of equipment to neutralize ordnances. One of those pieces of equipment is remote-controlled robots, one of those being the F6A. According to Adjoodani, the robot can do almost anything that a person can do and that's the point. Robots are sent in so that soldiers can stay out of harm's way. The robot can climb stairs, open doors, traverse all kind of landscape and has joints that allow its arms to move just like a person's would.
If, for some reason, a robot isn't doing the trick diffusing an ordnance then the team can employ a hook-and-line kit. The kit can be used to create a system of ropes and pulleys, so that an explosive can be lifted off of the ground and pulled over to a secure container.
If all other options have failed then an EOD tech has to don the bomb suit and diffuse the bomb by hand.
Senior Airman John Nelson said putting an EOD tech in the bomb suit is a last resort because it puts a soldier directly in harm's way.
The bomb suit is made of fire retardant fabric and Kevlar, Nelson said. The helmet is thick with padding and features a visor made of bullet proof plastic. The suit weighs 85 pounds total, with the helmet alone weighing 20 pounds. The body of the suit costs the Air Force $15,000 and the helmet costs $9,000, Nelson said.
Aside from all of the work that the EOD wing does at home and abroad, one of the reasons that Dover residents may be most familiar with the group is due to the noise that their training can make. Several months ago, the EOD team was doing training exercises that involved detonating explosives, causing area residents to hear several loud booms.
The EOD team was at it again on Tuesday. They produced two explosions, specifically for media viewing purposes, both caused by five pounds of C4, a stable plastic explosive. Five pounds of C4 is the maximum amount of explosives aloud to be set off for training, said McGovern. The blast created enough of an explosion to shake the ground roughly 1,000 meters away.
"This is always fun," said McGovern. "This is why I picked this job."