SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. – Imagine walking to your car in the morning on your way to work knowing that you would get into a life threatening accident that day.
Would you get in anyway, or would you call off and stay home?
For Explosive Ordnance Disposal Airmen, there is no choice. As the “bomb squad” of the Air Force, EOD is responsible for the identification, rendering safe explosive devices, and disposal of hazardous unexploded munitions and improvised explosive devices.
With EOD, there is no room for error. It could cost someone’s life, said Staff Sgt. Jason Luckenbaugh, who re-trained into EOD from supply in 2006.
“The home mission is to train for whatever,” Sergeant Luckenbaugh said. “The enemy is becoming more creative by the minute, and we have to stay a step ahead.”
Staying a step ahead can prove difficult for EOD Airmen. With the make-up of the IEDs only limited by the creativity of the inventor, continuously updated training is imperative.
And they do train.
The Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal 143-day training course, Eglin Air Force Base, Fl., is a testament to that. Courses range from air and ground ordinance to IED training. Most of their training is on-the-job, Sergeant Luckenbaugh said.
It really comes in handy during deployments.
Just ask Master Sgt. Michelle Barefield, 4th Fighter Wing EOD non-commissioned officer in charge, who has experienced seven deployments in her 19-year career.
From the home station mission to the battlefield, Sergeant Barfield said she has seen a lot.
“You really learn so much about the job on deployments,” Sergeant Barefield said. “I want to give everything I know to my troops before I retire”
Sergeant Barfield was awarded a Bronze Star for her actions as a team leader during her 2006 deployment to Iraq in.
She led her team during rescue efforts after a vehicle in the convoy they were riding in was hit by an IED.
“We were the first responders,” she said. “Everyone survived the incident”
While on another deployment to Baghdad, the vehicle she was riding in drove over an IED. While she was not seriously injured, she did receive a head injury, rendering her un-deployable.
While she wishes she could deploy again with the Airmen in her shop, but she is confident in knowing they are very well prepared and motivated to do their job.
Motivation is a key part of the job, said Senior Airman Cooper Gibson, an EOD journeyman.
“You really have to be mentally prepared for it,” he said.
Upon his first deployment, Airman Gibson said that he pretty much knew what to expect because other Airmen who came back would share everything they learned. He was excited to experience the things he had heard about first hand.
He was deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year, and while he saw a lot of things, there was one particular incident he said he will not forget.
“One night, we went to do a recovery, because a vehicle had gotten hit by an IED,” he said. “Before we left, we just knew we were going to get hit too, but you can’t let that stop you. You have to do your job.”
Soon after the convoy began, the vehicle he was riding in rolled over an IED, detonating it. While everyone survived, Airman Gibson received an injury to his head.
Surprisingly, he was actually glad that it happened to their vehicle.
“If it wasn’t ours, it would have been another one in the convoy,” he said. “I’d rather get some bruises than someone lose their life.”
His mindset, while maybe surprising to most, is the norm for EOD Airmen. From the first-term Airmen to seasoned NCOs, the importance of the mission is the same, and it seems to be very clear.
“I knew exactly what I was there for from moment I arrived until the time I left,” Sergeant Luckenbaugh said.
On the home-front, EOD duties include aiding local authorities’ drug raids, rendering booby- trapped houses safe, and detonating old dynamite, which Sergeant Barefield has done a lot in her career.
Whatever the mission, 4th Fighter Wing EOD is prepared, equipped and ready for action, with enthusiastic Airman with job passion and a reputation for excellence. The career field will remain one of the most respected in the Air Force.
“It’s a thrill” said Airman Gibson. “Outsmarting the terrorist, it’s kind of like a cat and mouse game, plus, I always wanted to blow things up.”