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By Griffin Swartzell, 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 27, 2019
The 21st Civil Engineer Squadron's Explosive Ordnance Disposal team members like Staff Sgt. Lawrence Gress, 21st CES EOD team member, pictured Aug. 23, 2019, train by doing “The Gruester.” The Gruester is an exercise that involves sprinting, rolling and pushups with a 30-pound vest and a 50-pound bag. Gress compared the group's constant, rigorous training to playing team sports. That’s what he says it takes to stay proficient and effective for when the group is called out to address a potential explosive threat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Griffin Swartzell)
In the office of the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron’s explosive ordnance disposal section, there is a wall that bears the names and faces of every EOD technician who has been killed in action since the beginning of the war on terrorism. On that wall hangs a memorial to one of their own: A1C Matthew Seidler, former 21st CES EOD technician. Seidler was killed in action in 2012, serving during Operation Enduring Freedom. His name is treated with the reverence due to a fallen brother in arms.
Master Sgt. Kenneth Lewis II, 21st CES EOD logistics section chief said that because of that potentially grave result in making a mistake, they take their training very seriously
However, the atmosphere isn’t grave inside the sweltering building where the EOD techs work and train. Staff Sgt. Lawrence Gress, 21st CES EOD team member, compares the energy and the camaraderie to what he experienced playing team sports when he grew up.
“It's kind of the same mindset as far as training,” he says. “We’re always practicing, constantly prepping for what I would call the big game, when our response is actually called or initiated.”
He and other Airmen in the EOD career field hold themselves to a different standard of physical fitness. They are required to complete a more extensive fitness test than normal, referred to as Tier Two. It’s a new program for Air Force EOD, and it includes tests of grip strength and endurance, as well as an exercise called “The Gruester,” which incorporates pushups, rolling and sprinting, all done with a 30-pound vest and a 50-pound bag.
“We have to work as a team at all times because we rely on each other to keep each other alive,” says Lewis.
Gress is from Manorville, New York, and he’s been in the Air Force for four years. Coming out of high school, he intended to join the U.S. military, but he instead decided to attend college first. While earning his bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of Tampa, he learned about the Air Force and what it could offer him.
“When school was ending, I still had the passion to join the military,” says Gress. “I was working two lousy jobs, and I basically looked at which one could get me out fastest. But once I was in and seeing what the career was all about, that's when I knew I really wanted to do this.”
EOD responds to and addresses explosives threats in the U.S. and abroad. According to Staff Sgt. Kyle Koski, 21st CES EOD team lead, that encompasses any direct attacks or threats, but it also includes responding to any found military ordnance in their coverage area. The EOD team works from as far south as Pueblo, Colorado, to as far north as Arvada, Colorado, and the Denver area, supporting Air Force installations and the surrounding communities.
“The United States Air Force Academy is where most of our calls come from,” says Koski. “They do a lot of training with cadets.”
The EOD group often cross trains with U.S. Army EOD technicians at Fort Carson, Colorado. Koski says that sometimes the Army and Air Force have slightly different techniques, and exchanging information makes both stronger. The group also provides training to area police and sheriff’s departments, including the Denver and Colorado Springs Police Departments.
“They have a lot of access to training opportunities that we don't and vice versa,” says Lewis. “It’s definitely a focus for us to keep lines of communication open and continue to expand them.”
Training is crucial to the 21st CES EOD section, because when they’re called in, Lewis says it’s likely a worst case scenario. If they are not competent, confident and capable of making decisions under pressure, people die.
“We’re the ones who are going to make sure that we save lives,” says Lewis, “and sometimes, the risk is great.”