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EOD: Service before self

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Senior Airman Terry Smith, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, places a simulated disruption charge next to a simulated suspicious package during training Jan. 8, 2013. Training in their bomb suit in tight quarters allows EOD technicians to practice maneuvering in small spaces with a heavy suit. (U.S Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Senior Airman Terry Smith, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, places a simulated disruption charge next to a simulated suspicious package during training Jan. 8, 2013. Training in their bomb suit in tight quarters allows EOD technicians to practice maneuvering in small spaces with a heavy suit. (U.S Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Senior Airman Terry Smith, middle, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, points to components of a device as part of the EOD team’s X-ray training Jan. 8, 2013. Team Pete EOD has the capability to X-ray suspicious devices on location. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Senior Airman Terry Smith, middle, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, points to components of a device as part of the EOD team’s X-ray training Jan. 8, 2013. Team Pete EOD has the capability to X-ray suspicious devices on location. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A computer system designed to operate the TALON robot, the robot used by Air Force explosive ordnance disposal while deployed in contingency operations overseas. The 21st Civil Engineer Squadron EOD team used the robot for training Jan. 8, 2013, here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A computer system designed to operate the TALON robot, the robot used by Air Force explosive ordnance disposal while deployed in contingency operations overseas. The 21st Civil Engineer Squadron EOD team used the robot for training Jan. 8, 2013, here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Master Sgt. Ross Kurashima, 302nd Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, leads a team of 11 Reservists and active-duty members from the 21st and 302nd CES EOD teams on an 11-mile ruck march Jan. 10, 2013. The EOD teams from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., have revolutionized the way Reserve and active units can build off of each others strengths by training together for an entire week once per quarter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Master Sgt. Ross Kurashima, 302nd Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, leads a team of 11 Reservists and active-duty members from the 21st and 302nd CES EOD teams on an 11-mile ruck march Jan. 10, 2013. The EOD teams from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., have revolutionized the way Reserve and active units can build off of each others strengths by training together for an entire week once per quarter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Master Sgt. Ross Kurashima (middle), 302nd Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, points out the objective for the team from the 21st CES EOD team Jan. 10, 2013. The EOD teams from Peterson Air Force Base have revolutionized the way Reserve and active units can build off each others strengths by training together for an entire week once per quarter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Master Sgt. Ross Kurashima (middle), 302nd Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, points out the objective for the team from the 21st CES EOD team Jan. 10, 2013. The EOD teams from Peterson Air Force Base have revolutionized the way Reserve and active units can build off each others strengths by training together for an entire week once per quarter. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Staff Sgt. John Medina, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, practices looking for mines during training Jan. 10, 2013. The purpose of the training was to prepare the new NCOs for a possible team-lead position on their next deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Staff Sgt. John Medina, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, practices looking for mines during training Jan. 10, 2013. The purpose of the training was to prepare the new NCOs for a possible team-lead position on their next deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Staff Sgt. John Medina, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, practices looking for traps around an area where he found a simulated explosive during training Jan. 10, 2013. The purpose of the training was to prepare the new NCOs for a possible team-lead position on their next deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Staff Sgt. John Medina, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, practices looking for traps around an area where he found a simulated explosive during training Jan. 10, 2013. The purpose of the training was to prepare the new NCOs for a possible team-lead position on their next deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- The 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal team detonates about 15 pounds of C4 plastic explosive during a training exercise with the 302nd CES EOD team Jan. 10 at Fort Carson. C4 has a detonation velocity of 26,550 feet per second. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- The 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal team detonates about 15 pounds of C4 plastic explosive during a training exercise with the 302nd CES EOD team Jan. 10 at Fort Carson. C4 has a detonation velocity of 26,550 feet per second. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Morgan)

AURORA, Colo. -- Two 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technicians load their equipment to investigate a K-941 gas kit found in an area known as the Jeep Demolition Range Dec. 11, 2012. The gas kit was X-rayed by the 21st CES EOD team and was empty. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Paul Horton)

AURORA, Colo. -- Two 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technicians load their equipment to investigate a K-941 gas kit found in an area known as the Jeep Demolition Range Dec. 11, 2012. The gas kit was X-rayed by the 21st CES EOD team and was empty. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Paul Horton)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Every service member took an oath to support and defend the U.S. constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. To uphold this oath, members may have to put their life on the line.

Some service members may put their lives in danger on behalf of their sworn oath, while others may never have to face this situation at all. However, for most explosive ordnance disposal technicians, the time to uphold this oath comes soon after enlistment and must be made at the drop of a hat.

"I will never forget searching around in the dirt and putting my hand on a mine for the first time," said Staff Sgt. Mathew Kimberling, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician. "It takes a certain mindset not to panic knowing at that moment the lives of my team, myself or whoever may come across this mine, may be at stake."

EOD technicians have to be prepared to face situations like this and be prepared to do whatever it takes to protect their fellow service members. These decisions do not come easily, and require extensive training and leadership.

According to Master Sgt. Paul Horton, 21st CES EOD flight chief, the EOD career field has changed in recent years. Team leads were once all technical sergeants; now, overseas operations are demanding more of junior NCOs.

At about 3 a.m. Jan. 10, on only a few hours of sleep, five members of 302nd CES EOD team and six members of the 21st CES EOD team began a ruck march in 20 degree weather carrying 75 pound loads at Fort Carson, Colo.

The goal of the day was to march 10 miles, simulating long, unpredictable days during a deployment, as well as train new NCOs to deal with unknown situations as team leads.

This goal was especially clear for the 21st CES EOD who recently responded to Aurora, Colo., for a K-941 gas kit found in an area known as the Jeep Demolition Range Dec. 11, 2012. The gas kit was buried under a rattlesnake nest and was believed to have gas in it.

"You can't make this stuff up," said Horton. "When something kicks off, you're all of the sudden right there. You have to know how to think around difficult situations. The training we do 100 percent connects to our state-side mission."

Horton likened the physical stresses of the 10-mile ruck march to moving 2,000 pounds of dirt while wearing a fully encompassed bomb suit, similar to what EOD members experienced in Aurora.

The gas kit in Aurora, X-rayed by the 21st CES EOD team, ended up being empty, but the physical and mental stress is something the EOD team trains for by incorporating real-world experiences to prepare their new members.

After the ruck march ended at 7:30 a.m., multiple scenarios, or "problems," were set up at different locations. Two new NCOs, Staff Sgt. John Medina and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Redfern, with very little team lead experience, were put in charge of three-man teams with limited information.

"We began so early, with so little sleep for shock factor, to give the young guys a little taste of what it's like over there," said Kimberling. "We continued to go (without vehicles) to be realistic of how hard you would have to push yourself overseas."

Kimberling, who was on Staff Sgt. John Medina's team, has four deployments under his belt, three to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, and team-lead experience in his last deployment. His goal was to share those experiences with the new up-and-coming junior NCOs of the 21st CES EOD, but not to lead the scenario.

"(Kimberling) is becoming more settled with the responsibility of a whole group of guys rather than just himself," said Horton. "It's interesting watching him transition."

After a change of socks and some food, the teams started a simulated mission. The team walked another mile until Medina was faced with making decisions as a team lead for only the second time in his career.

Medina had to lead his team to investigate and render safe a possible explosive that was left on a local's doorstep. The scenario, put together by Master Sgt. Ross Kurashima, 302nd CES EOD technician, mirrored real-world tactics, techniques and procedures used by the enemy Kurashima experienced in the past.

Two and a half hours later, after rendering safe the explosives, Medina and his team headed back another mile to take a break.

"A good team lead has to rely on their entire team," said Kimberling. "Medina was faced with new concepts. He stumbled a little with decision making, however asserting himself as the EOD team lead he assessed the situation, didn't get hung up on his mistakes and showed great capability."

The training ended at about 3 p.m. with explosives practice - the team detonated roughly 15 pounds of C4 plastic explosive - and two new NCOs with vital team lead experience.

"In a response, you can make decisions that might kill someone, but you still have to make more decisions. We need to toughen our members up mentally," said Horton. "We need to shake their confidence, so they know what it feels like and they can respond with the right mindset."

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