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Job is a blast for members of MacDill EOD flight

Story by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Many jobs in the military have a low tolerance for error but few have consequences as great as those faced by the men and women of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight. With a varied mission that runs from destroying old hand grenades, ensuring the safety of ordnance on visiting aircraft, to protection of the president of the United States, these highly trained servicemembers are best known for getting up close and personal with things that go "boom," then rendering them harmless. The job is more important than ever now, as terrorist threats and explosives equipped with chemical or biological materials are a greater concern. The EOD unit is trained to deal with these problems, said Tech. Sgt. Pat Gildea, EOD flight chief.

"There is a lot of training required," said Gildea, adding that his staff is equipped to handle everything from a pipe bomb to sophisticated electronic explosive devices. "You have to have a good understanding of the things you might have to face."

These days it means being prepared for the absolute worst, all the way up to chemical weapons and possibly even a nuclear device, said Gildea. Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, who appear in movies and television sweating bullets as they decide whether to cut the red or black wire, Gildea said in the real world "there isn't a whole lot of wire cutting going on."

The preferred method is to detonate the offending material, said Tech. Sgt. Craig Seay, EOD superintendent. Conditions, the safety threat and other factors go into the decision, but in most cases it is better to explode a device in a safe place rather than try to defuse it, he said.

Other options include a tactic used for the quick clearing of multiple explosives by using a .50 caliber sniper rifle to break them up or better, detonate them. The unit also uses automated bomb disposal robots, which are remotely controlled to approach and safely retrieve or detonate bombs. The stainless steel machine is loaded and ready to go into action, armed with a variety of tools including it's own shotgun for blowing locks off doors. Like the robot, everyone in EOD is ready to deploy in a moment's notice. They could be called to the base gate to inspect a suspicious device on a car or all the way to Iraq, where some members of the MacDill unit already are performing their mission as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

To stay sharp, each Tuesday the EOD practices by detonating an explosive device. Up to five pounds of explosives and ordnance can be disposed of on base, in a designated area at the south end of MacDill near the firing range. The training usually involves gasoline and C-4 explosives sparked by a blasting cap charged via a wire that runs underground at the disposal field. On a recent Tuesday, 1.25 pounds of explosives was detonated, leaving a neat crater in the ground the size of a small automobile tire. Those inspecting the blast site were able to tell how well the charge was set by the perfectly symmetrical crater.

In addition to handling explosives, security is another important role and some may have noticed members of the EOD unit working protection during the recent visit of President George Bush. They were the ones wearing gray fatigues. When called to work with the Secret Service in more formal environments, they may wear black suits. Gildea said he is not at liberty to say just what his people do when working these special assignments, but he called the service "vital" to the security of dignitaries and officials in their charge.

Of particular interest for everyone in the unit is the Iraq operation. The ordnance being used to topple the Iraqi regime are familiar to these experts, who must be able to identify and deal with up to 8,000 different types of explosive devices, said Seay.

Gildea said there will be a very large job to do in post war Iraq for EOD units as tons of ordnance will have to be destroyed. If the job should call for disposal of chemical or bio weapons, EOD units like his have the training and equipment to deal with it, from Level C suits for protection from lesser chemicals, all the way up to Level A "bubble" suits with self-contained breathing equipment.

EOD training is a joint services operation, with all branches attending training together. Each branch goes about its mission a little differently but the basic principles of the job are the same. The job has a long tradition in the military and the EOD badge, comprised of wreaths, a bomb, lightning bolts, a shield and stars is the oldest authorized career badge in the Air Force.





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