By Billy P. Martin, Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal Public Affairs
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD) hosted the 50th annual Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Memorial Ceremony at the EOD Memorial onboard Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, May 4.
The EOD community from each of the joint services gathered to honor the memory of 338 fallen EOD heroes and add the names of three additional EOD technicians to the memorial.
Those added to the memorial this year include: Army Sgt. Joseph P. Collette, who was killed in action on March 22, 2019 while serving in Afghanistan; Army Sgt. James Allen Slape, who was killed in action on Oct. 4, 2018 while serving in Afghanistan; and Army 1st Lt. William F. “Bill” Alter, who was killed in action on June 11, 1945 while serving in World War II.
Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan stated in a letter to NAVSCOLEOD, “Our EOD technicians have a long legacy of providing our nation critical service in the face of great danger. This year’s memorialization of Sgt. Joseph P. Collette, 1st Lt. William Alter, and Sgt. James Slape highlights the timeless criticality of the EOD mission and the enduring appreciation of their sacrifice by our military community.”
Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. David Goldfein, provided a stimulating discourse that personified the crux of the EOD community, mission, their steadfast commitment to success and the infinite sacrifice of their families.
“We will never forget,” said Goldfein. “For those of us still serving, we have a sacred duty to continue saying their names…1st Lt. William Alter, Sgt. James Slape, Sgt. Joseph Collette. Because we are all part of a joint warfighting team: We train together, we fight together, we bleed together, and we mourn together. For our EOD operators always remember the significance of this memorial. It is much more than names etched on a wall. It is where the lines of history and heroism intersect.”
NAVSCOLEOD’s Service Detachment commanders and senior enlisted placed a wreath next to their respective service’s cenotaph on the EOD Memorial while a fellow service member read the names of fallen EOD heroes aloud, concluding with the phrase “We Remember.” The respective service senior general then presented a flag, previously flown over the EOD Memorial, to each of the families.
“We Remember” signifies the very essence and ethos of EOD technicians to never forget the extraordinary efforts of our EOD brothers and sisters who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The EOD badge and its three levels (basic, senior and master) became the standard for all services in the 1950s. To this day, the EOD badge remains the only badge in the military identical for all branches of service. This unique distinction reflects the vital role of NAVSCOLEOD in training joint EOD warriors.
“At the EOD Memorial ceremony, we honor and solemnly remember warriors that have given the greatest sacrifice in the defense of our great democracy,” said Capt. Charles Andrews, NAVSCOLEOD commanding officer. “We aspire to peace and would prefer to not have any names on the memorial wall but realize that peace must be fought for and defended. I am honored to memorialize these warriors so that we always remember. Today’s ceremony makes me reflect on all that is great about our military and country.”
On April 15, 2014, the Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners officially proclaimed the first Saturday in May as “EOD Day” in honor of the memorial ceremony. This day represents a sacred time for the EOD community to reflect and remember the heroic actions of fallen EOD warriors. The EOD Memorial honors 341 EOD technicians who have died in the line of duty since 1942 – more than 130 of those since Sept. 11, 2001.
Staff members from all four services at NAVSCOLEOD, as well as members of the EOD Warrior Foundation, coordinated and executed preparations for the ceremony.
The EOD Memorial Foundation, established in 1969, merged with the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation in March 2013 to form the EOD Warrior Foundation. The foundation serves and supports the joint service EOD community.
“This year we add three EOD warriors to the EOD Memorial Wall, a memorial that ensures fallen EOD warriors who have made the ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten,” said Nicole Motsek, executive director, EOD Warrior Foundation. “The warriors added today, and the 338 before them are heroes. It is an honor and privilege to preserve their legacy and to provide ongoing support to their families.”
NAVSCOLEOD, located onboard Eglin Air Force Base, provides high-risk, specialized, basic and advanced EOD training to U.S. and partner nation militaries and selected U.S. government personnel each year.