EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. —
A three-person explosive ordnance disposal team approaches a bomb-laden vehicle with two hostages inside. As they reach the car, a hidden device explodes, damaging the leg of a team member.
What does the team do next?
This was just one of many difficult scenarios the airmen encountered during this year’s EOD Warfighter Challenge held here.
The two-week, situation-based training exercise was created last year by the 96th Civil Engineer Group. More than 90 airmen from more than 20 Air Force EOD units participated in this year’s exercise.
“The response was so overwhelming we needed another week to handle the demand,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Burke, EOD Warfighter Challenge creator with the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron.
The event’s goal was to hone the airmens’ EOD and problem-solving skills with new environments, setups, gear and situations. Eglin’s range area, formally used to train deploying security forces airmen, was the site of urban and village exercise scenarios.
“The more realistic and challenging we can make the situations, the more the airmen will take away from it and remember when it is real,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Bodner, 96th EOD flight.
Another goal of the Warfighter Challenge was to provide opportunities for airmen to train in leadership positions on the three-person EOD teams.
“You have to see the situation differently and think about the whole team and what actions are required to keep not just yourself, but your team safe. I hadn’t seen that side of it until now,” said Air Force Senior Airman Aaron Parris, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron, who acted as an EOD team lead for the first time during the exercise.
The teams encountered at least three scenarios each day. There were multiple improvised explosive device problems within each scenario the airmen would solve, along with human elements and equipment limitations. Each situation had numerous ways to solve each problem. It was up to the airmen to determine the best and safest solution.
The situations varied from pressure plates to a pipe bomb around a victim’s neck, to vehicle-borne IEDs, roadside bombs and a mock electronics store filled with so many electrical parts that anything could be an IED. There was also a scenario with a simulated bomb strapped to a non-English speaking victim. In that situation, the victim would frantically try, but could not provide the EOD technician any information to help them.
The mental and physical puzzles of the training were only part of the Warfighter Challenge. Participants passed along lessons learned, equipment benefits and methods of mission improvement. That knowledge is taken back to their units.
For example, at last year’s exercise a piece of equipment for the technicians’ night vision was deemed a “must have” by the participants. The request was processed, and with a few months the new gear was added to the standard equipment required for all Air Force EOD technicians.
“This is larger for us than just these exercises. There’s so much more being accomplished,” said Air Force Capt. Cory McCart, Eglin’s EOD flight commander. “We are helping to improve the airmen who attend, their units, the career field and our mission as a whole.”