ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The field of explosive ordnance disposal has been in the spotlight for the past decade due to our nation’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and partly due to Hollywood’s portrayal of an EOD team in the 2008 movie “The Hurt Locker.” Talk to any Soldier who has deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn or Operation Enduring Freedom, and the majority of them will have an experience that somehow relates to the field of EOD. Even though the field is small (less than one percent of the total Army), the EOD story is one that many Soldiers know about or can somehow relate to. This demonstrates the importance of the EOD role and highlights the main responsibility — the mitigation of conventional and unconventional explosive devices in order to protect life and property for both military and civilian authorities. The importance of the EOD mission has become blatantly apparent in the last decade; however, it is crucial to remember that the role of EOD expands past the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to the overseas mission, EOD Soldiers have the responsibility of protecting our homeland when stationed stateside. This responsibility varies greatly and can include a host of incidents. Emergency response can range from responding to a dud-fired M67 fragmentation grenade on a military range or to supporting local law enforcement officials when requested. This request for assistance comes when a local agency does not have the ability to respond to explosive ordnance incidents, when military munitions are found, or when the situation is outside of the realm of their capabilities. The United States is divided into geographical areas of responsibility to dictate where each EOD company, and their respective EOD team, will assist when notified. This can require EOD teams to travel hundreds of miles from their installations to support local agencies in some situations. As with wartime operations, the EOD technician has to be prepared for a variety of stateside operations as well.
In addition to EOD emergency response, EOD technicians from all services assist the Secret Service in the protection of site venues and locations for VIPs including the president, vice president, first lady, foreign dignitaries and presidential candidates during an election year.
Within the Army EOD community, there are a few specialized companies that have additional mission requirements. Although all EOD companies are charged with homeland defense when not deployed, there is one stateside EOD company that is charged solely with the protection of our homeland and nation’s capital. The 55th Ordnance Company (EOD), out of Fort Belvoir, Va. is responsible for responding to incidents in the national capital region and Military District of Washington. Although the capital region is swarmed with civilian bomb squad capabilities, the need for Army EOD expertise remains prevalent. In the instance where local capabilities are exhausted or if the situation is outside of the scope of the civilian agency, the 55th is on hand to respond.
Additionally, Soldiers in the 55th provide VIP support for the various travel arrangements national leaders make in and around Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas or for other special requests. In November, Congressman Rick Crawford (R-Ariz.) requested an EOD static display on Capitol Hill for the inaugural EOD caucus, which he established with Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.). The EOD caucus was established in order to raise awareness of EOD operations and to further protect our Soldiers from improvised explosive devices through awareness and education. Crawford, a prior service Army EOD technician, personally understands the importance of educating members of Congress on the dangers of the career field.
If you travel south from the nation’s capital and the 55th Ord. Co. (EOD), you’ll find another unique Army EOD company. The 28th Ordnance Company (EOD) from Fort Bragg is the Army’s only airborne EOD company. This company has the responsibility of supporting the 75th Ranger Regiment and other special operations forces throughout the world. Members of this unit are required to attend an assessment and selection prior to assignment to Fort Bragg. The 28th Ord. Co. requires that all of its EOD operators are in top physical condition, mentally and emotionally strong, and possess the training and skill set to operate in any environment, day or night.
Finally, the 21st Ordnance Company (EOD) out of Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., is the Army’s weapon of mass destruction EOD company. The 21st Ord. Co. is responsible for providing technical EOD operations and containment procedures for WMDs. The specified mission of this unit is to provide EOD support as part of the joint technical operations team to defeat or mitigate the effects of WMDs directed against the U.S. or national interests, stateside or overseas.
Between emergency response and VIP missions, the typical EOD technician remains actively involved while executing homeland defense. The duty day may not end at 5 p.m., and weekends and holidays are not guaranteed as “time off.” As is the case with all members of the Army, EOD technicians are Soldiers 24/7. The mission of EOD starts in our own backyard, protecting the citizens of this great nation from explosive threats. The wars may subside, but the need for EOD professionals will always remain.