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EOD team members share safety tips, experiences

An explosive ordnance disposal robot from the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron’s EOD shop is dispatched to examine a suspicious package after a simulated explosion in the base auditorium during an emergency management exercise March 15. The EME was part of the wing’s Operational Readiness Inspection and Unit Compliance Inspection, which started Feb. 28 and concluded March 21. (U.S. Air Force photo/Craig Denton)

Explosive ordnance disposal robots from the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron’s EOD shop, such as this one, are used to examine suspicious packages. (U.S. Air Force photo/Craig Denton)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- When it comes to handling explosives, safety is top priority. The 21st Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team will spend Nov. 17 talking about some of the latest safety trends and tactics for this month's EOD safety day.

Master Sgt. Paul Horton, EOD flight chief, said safety day is held twice a year. One of the primary goals is to look at the storyboards for deaths and injuries and see what lessons can be learned to prevent future incidents. "Team leaders will take from it how they can best not get into that situation again. Team members will look at what those team members did, especially if there were rescue efforts to save somebody's life, so they can better prepare for those missions," he said.

The British created the first EOD teams in 1942 to handle the unexploded ordnance left over from World War II, Horton said. When the United States created EOD teams in 1947, they were trained by the British.

Today, EOD teams respond stateside to any hazardous explosive device, provide secret service support, and combat support overseas. "Here at Peterson, we provided more combat personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq than any other EOD flight in Air Force Space Command. We also do more secret service missions," Horton said.

EOD teams can share horror stories of route patrols, ambush zones and unfamiliar terrain in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Every single mission is responding to a unit's worst day of their life and the odds are stacked up pretty high against you in those missions," Horton said.

Robots are used as often as they can to prevent team members from going down range, but as EOD teams have taken on more air assaults and dismounts, the risk has gone up, Horton said. "You don't have a vehicle that has two or three robots and all the explosives, cameras and gadgets. It's what you can carry."

Since 2004, most EOD team members have deployed for six to eight months a year, every year, Horton said. The stress of deployment and dangerous nature of the job can crumble a relationship. One of the focuses of this safety day will be how to build and maintain long-term relationships.

"The length of the war and the amount of fighting has resulted in a lot of people not having families anymore. They've not always been able to deal with how much death and injury is around them," he said. "We want to educate our guys and their families on what is going on and try to get them better resources so that they can have a better relationship with their family."

The second priority of this month's safety day is to raise awareness of traumatic brain injury. Horton said they will talk about how to recognize a teammate's brain injury and how to take care of them until a medical facility is available.

"We talk about how to make sure that they're taken care of and they're OK for themselves and their family, as well as the Air Force," Horton said.

EOD team members also spend time sharing their own experiences and remembering those team members who have been killed or injured.

"It's hard because a lot of this is very personal. There's a lot of loss," Horton said.

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui