Inside an EOD Unit

Elisabeth Meinecke

4/16/2013 7:00:00 AM - Elisabeth Meinecke

Editor's Note: The below piece is excerpted from Townhall Magazine's January feature, "The Calm in the Storm," by Leah Barkoukis. In light of the tragic events in Boston yesterday, we wanted to share relevant excerpts from this in-depth look at the workings of an EOD unit to help people better understand, or have some context, for what they might hear coming out of Boston the next several days. Our piece focused specifically on military task forces and their work overseas, but it will hopefully leave readers better informed on EOD procedures, EODs themselves, and the evidence that can be gleaned from them.

Inside the U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal truck at Andrews Air Force Base, all eyes are fixated on a screen that’s running a live feed from the robot’s camera outside. The spectacle is a mock improvised explosive device that’s about to be “disrupted”—an intentionally vague term meant to encapsulate classified information. Basically, through a controlled blast, the team is mitigating the hazard of the unexploded ordnance—while attempting to retain as much evidence as possible.

Tech. Sgt. Wayne Winder adjusts the controls for the robot’s camera to get a better view. On screen, everything appears to be ready; the “IED” is sandwiched between sandbags—which are piled high in a triangular shape behind the device—and four bottles of water bound together with electrical tape. With the help of a blasting cap, explosives and electrical wires, the water turns into a powerful tool to disrupt the IED.

“FIRE IN THE HOLE! FIRE IN THE HOLE! FIRE IN THE HOLE!” an airman yells from outside the truck, warning that a detonation is imminent.

A loud blast rings out through the air and, in an instant, all that remains on the screen is a cloud of smoke and dust, and a few measly sandbags that managed to remain intact.

Mission accomplished.

IEDs in Afghanistan are like a modernday incarnation of Hydra; for each device found and defeated, two more crop up. Since they’re cheap and easy to make, IEDs are a weapon of choice against U.S. troops and coalition forces in Afghanistan. AOL Defense reports IEDs have replaced artillery as the leading cause of death on the battlefield. The rudimentary device littered throughout Afghanistan’s landscape is hidden in places bound only by the imagination and accounts for 60 percent of the casualties U.S. and coalition forces sustained in the country, according to figures AOL Defense obtained from an Atlantic Council briefing with Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, head of the Joint IED Defeat Organization.

While the U.S. military has a host of interconnected methods to accomplish the Herculean task of defeating the IED and its network, one group in particular is charged with tackling the threat head-on: Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians, the exclusive community in branches across the U.S. military trained to handle leftover Civil War-era ordnance, weapons of mass destruction and everything in between.

Evolving from the necessities of World War II, the field dates back to the early 1940s when the use of delayedexplosion bombs burgeoned in Europe. Although the U.S. had not yet entered the war, the country was preparing for that inevitability, according to the EOD Memorial Foundation. Its website reads, “It was expected that if the United States entered the war, we would experience bombing of our cities and industries,” which spawned the creation of a bomb disposal program. The field, now known as EOD, has continually adapted to the vicissitudes of war and, along the way, drawn some of the most courageous men and women known to the U.S. military. ...

EOD technicians don’t just go out when an IED is found; they’re also the called upon to conduct an investigation of the scene when one has been detonated. They’re looking to determine the type of explosive, materials the insurgents used to build it, how they employed the IED and what their tactics were. All this is key in trying to determine the identity of the IED makers, which is part of the U.S.’s overall counter-IED strategy. ....