Honor — Courage — Commitment
Pick almost any job in the U.S. military; it will be dangerous work. Most people do not understand that to win in battle, a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine must constantly train to master his particular combat skills, maintain them, and rehearse them — so that they become second nature. Two things are true about this: first, even the sharpest, gutsiest, most skilled trooper runs the risk of being killed in combat. Second, training for war can be as lethal as combat. Military men and women die in training accidents all the time. Wearing our nation’s uniform is risky, but some military occupations are exponentially more dangerous than others. So dangerous, in fact, that someone looking in from the outside might wonder why people do those kinds of jobs. The answer is because someone has to.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) is one of those jobs. It’s one of those occupations where, after everyone takes cover, the EOD technician suits up and approaches the explosive device intending to render it inert. Sometimes they’re able to do that. Sometimes they die trying.
Highly specialized training for these men and women lasts a year. The EOD schools not only teach their students how to do their jobs, but they also teach them how to survive it — or, they try to. The fact is that explosive devices can be pretty complex — made so by the bombmaker whose goal is to kill the EOD technician or as many people as possible in the explosion.
It is not only the bomb that EOD technicians must defeat; they must destroy the explosive where the bombmaker placed it. It is one thing to demolish a bomb along an isolated stretch of road — something else to defeat it when it’s been placed near a school or hospital. Of course, this presumes that the EOD technician locates the bomb before it goes off.
EOD is also one of those jobs where complacency will kill you as quickly as cocky self-confidence. One Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer instructs his men, “If you think it’s going to blow up, don’t go down there.” But no one in EOD wants to admit defeat (even when discretion is the better part of valor). Such stubbornness is suicidal. When evaluating a disposal task, Marine EOD technicians are foolish if they do not carefully think about a few of the Marine Corps’ leadership principles: (1) Be proficient; (2) Know yourself; (5) Set the example, and (8) Make sound and timely decisions.
EOD technicians indeed wear protective suits — the operative word being “protective.” It’s like saying “fire retardant.” It may offer some protection from small bombs, but it won’t save the technicians from death or severe injury if the blast is large. Speaking of serious injury, anyone within a certain radius of an explosion is likely to experience one of the more devastating injuries: traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The protective suit can also be a hindrance. It’s bulky. It limits dexterity. It restricts a technician’s vision. When that happens, the highly motivated (and exceedingly confident) bomb disposal technician is likely to begin shedding his protective gear so that he can get to the bomb — and do his job.
By the way, whether soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine … all EOD technicians are volunteers. But volunteerism isn’t enough. Applicants for EOD training must go through an extensive screening process. They have to be physically and mentally (psychologically) suitable for the most stressful of all combat assignments. This is not the job you go to in the morning with a hangover.
EOD Marines — well done!