Elements from 452d Air Mobility Wing Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, Security Forces Squadron and 912th Air Refueling Squadron Intelligence, teamed up in a realistic training scenario depicting actions taken to locate, secure and neutralize an improvised rocket launcher position, targeting friendly forces. This particular event took on an additional level of intensity, due to participation by Col. Samuel Mahaney, 452d AMW commander, during his Dirty Thursday visit with the units, Thursday, April 18.
“The Dirty Thursday program allows me to shadow Airmen, getting my hands and clothes dirty,” said Mahaney. “This is a great opportunity for me to get a better perspective on what March members are really doing to support the mission.”
Here is how the day played out:
Upon notification from the troop operations center that EOD support was needed, Tech. Sgt. Brian Howards, mission planner, 452d EOD, immediately began analyzing the situation to determine what capabilities would need to be programmed into a quick response force strategy. Staff Sgts. David Harris, intelligence specialist, 912th ARS and Michael Matulich, team leader, 452d SFS, were also on hand to assist with in depth briefs on insurgent threats and security formations while in the area of responsibility.
Training mission brief – April 18, 1230 hours: An Afghan National Army patrol reported an IRL position set up under a tree facing forward operating base Bronco, at 11SMT7750. The IRL appeared to be a 107-millimeter rocket with wires coming out of the base. The ANA patrol has already returned to base. Coalition forces are attempting to get air support, but there is currently none available. Since FOB Bronco does not have an explosive ordnance disposal team available, March Air Reserve Base, Calif., has been requested to provide support. Be advised there is a high likelihood that enemy combatants will be in the area with sniper capabilities.
“An EOD team, with Security Forces escort, will depart forward operating base March via helicopter to drop zone Xray, located next to the bazaar, approximately two kilometers from the IRL site,” briefed Howards. “From there, the team will move along route Zulu to the IRL site where security forces will provide perimeter defense to allow EOD team members to interrogate and neutralize the IRL site. Once the threat has been defused, the team will proceed along route Yankee, back to drop zone Xray, where they will ‘exfil,’ or depart, via helicopter back to FOB March.”
After the mission brief, Tech. Sgt. Owen Duff, team chief, 452d EOD; call sign Detonator 85, gave the order to don ‘game faces’ and prepare for departure. He assisted Mahaney with suiting up, a task in itself because the required protective gear adds more than 20 pounds to the average person’s body weight, in addition to an EOD pack which varies according to mission (robots, explosives, crew systems, or accessories), weighing more than 65 pounds. Once suited up, they proceeded to the hanger for transportation. For this portion of the exercise, they used Humvees instead of helicopters for transportation.
“EOD TOC, this is Detonator 85, departing March for drop zone Xray.”
“Copy that Detonator 85…TOC out.”
Drop zone Xray had a terrain identical to March ARB, so the team was well aware of what to expect. In reality, the drop zone location was one ‘click’ away, adjacent to the 452d Emergency Management worksite.
“EOD TOC, this is Detonator 85 — we have dismounted at the drop zone and are proceeding toward the IRL site, will advise when have eyes on target.”
“Copy that Detonator 85…keep us updated on your status…TOC out.”
Duff ensured all team members were present, understood the mission objective and were clear on formations and hand signals. During these types of operations, knowledge of instructional hand signals are essential due to radio blackout — electronic emissions produced when a radio is keyed, can inadvertently cause a devise to explode if within close proximity. Duff further briefed:
“Listen up everyone! We are to proceed to IRL site using a staggered column formation. Make sure you follow the team member in front of you; maintain your interval and separation; keep eyes open for any threats; and check on the team members behind you. Make sure you all pay attention to my hand signals because we will not have radio comm.”
Along the way to the site, Duff used a full complement of hand signals to ensure the safety of his team. Signals such as “stop”, “get down” and “proceed” were used sparingly to direct the rest of the team to the IRL site. When their destination was reached, the point man spotted the device and relayed the information back to Duff. At that point, Duff began to analyze the situation and was able to determine the exact distance, orientation and size of the IRL. Ensuring he was far enough away from the device to avert detonation, Duff radioed back to the TOC:
“EOD TOC, this is Detonator 85. We
have located the suspect device and have setup a defensive perimeter…Break… There is a rocket pointing toward the base…Break…alert the base to alarm condition red…Break…moving now to neutralize the situation.”
“Copy that Detonator 85…EOD TOC out.”
Using man-to-man communication, Duff relayed mission data to each of the team members, making up the defensive perimeter. This formation is designed to keep “friendlies” away from the blast site and to ensure there are no “unfriendlies,” or snipers, in the immediate area. Proven success in past wartime experiences have made EOD team members a high-value target to the enemy.
(In this training scenario, the perimeter was set up to keep March members a safe distance from the exercise location. Safety is ALWAYS priority one!)
Duff’s briefing to Senior Airmen Justin Wilbur and Moises Gonzalez:
“Okay guys you know the deal, I need to get down there and see what is going on. Wilbur you are coming half way down as my safety backup, ensure that if anything happens while I am down range you are the first one in to clear the area and begin medical procedures. Gonzo if anything happens it is on you to coordinate with the security element and get the medevac rolling. Any questions?
Duff’s briefing to Mahaney:
Sir, we are going to head down range using the safest path available to us — right now, that is the road. When we get within 25 feet, I will have to get close enough to confirm that it is indeed a rocket and what its hooked up to — maybe a timer. I will use this mine detector to clear a path up near the ordnance to ensure I haven’t missed anything. If I get strong hits from the detector along the way, we will need to avoid those areas. If I see anything such as a grenade pin, that tells me there is possibly a secondary device in the area. We will then get back to the safe area and brief the team.”
Duff, shadowed by Mahaney, approached the IRL using a mine detector. This device was used to ensure there were not any secondary explosives rigged underground — Mahaney was careful to follow in Duff’s footsteps, to ensure he was in the same clear path made by Duff using the detector. When the target was reached, Duff surveyed the immediate area and detected several pieces of metal and what appeared to be a pin from a grenade. He further assessed there may be secondary devices in the area and the safest way to defuse the situation would be to ‘intentionally’ detonate the rocket.
Duff and Mahaney returned to the safe zone using the cleared path, to inform the rest of the team. Duff sent a runner to update the members that made up the perimeter on his intent to neutralize the site.
“Okay guys, we have a 107mm rocket with point detonating fuse hooked up to a washing machine timer. I did see a grenade pin so I assume that there is a grenade setup in the area somewhere as a secondary device. Keep the security undercover while I go down and prepare the rocket for detonation. Any questions? Okay, while I am down there getting the rope hooked up to the rocket, get the explosives ready — I want two blocks prepped on firing wire.”
To add a realistic element to the training, Howards, now serving as Range Safety Officer, determined that the team would use real explosives to detonate the site. Tech. Sgts. Jamie Pumford and Christopher Greenfield, evaluation and demolition team members, set up the explosives to offer Mahaney a fraction of what it feels like to detonate a bomb.
Multiple safety checks were conducted to ensure for everyone’s safety, to include a base-wide notification, warning March personnel of the impending actions about to take place.
When the “all clear” was given,
Mahaney made the call:
“Fire in the hole, Fire in the hole!”
There was a loud, controlled explosion and the situation was neutralized. The team conducted a sweep of the area to ensure all devices were destroyed and to extinguish any small fires that may have resulted from the detonation. Duff concluded with:
“Okay team, lets pack it up and head back to base camp — job well done!”
This training scenario touched on what it takes to perform as an EOD unit. Every safety precaution was adhered to, ensuring the safety of the team members participating in the exercise and also the base-wide population.
“Another successful Dirty Thursday and a well-deserved respect for our EOD team members,” said Mahaney.
The mission of the March EOD is to provide ready capability to defeat or mitigate hazards caused by foreign or domestic explosive, chemical, biological or nuclear ordnance and improvised explosive devices.