Joint mission showcases 123rd Airlift Wing's EOD capabilities, assists Indiana Guard
By Tech. Sgt. D. Clare, 123d Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 23, 2010
CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. -- The call comes in: There's a suspicious vehicle parked at one of the Indiana National Guard's primary combat training facilities.
Military and civilian authorities aren't taking any chances. They call the closest responders they know -- the Kentucky Air National Guard's explosive ordnance disposal team.
Within moments of a briefing from emergency responders, the Airmen deploy their Remotec MK VI Andros robot. From a safe distance, they use its camera to survey the scene.
They find a suspicious tube in the vehicle's trunk, remove it with the robot and take it to a safer location.
Now it's time to sweat. Tech. Sgt. Lowery Woods, a seasoned explosive ordnance disposal tech, dons an 80-pound "bomb suit." It's designed to protect the body's vital organs in the event of an explosion. That's an eventuality Sergeant Woods would rather not contemplate.
To safely destroy the probable pipe bomb, he must hand-carry an x-ray device to the scene, scan the object and determine the best way to disarm or destroy it. Years of training and experience, coupled with an hour of extreme tension and careful planning, come to a close with an uneventful shell pop. Plastic from the simulated bomb is scattered to the winds. The exercise is over.
So is a four-day, real-world mission and joint training evolution that cleared the Indiana Air National Guard's Air-to-Ground Gunnery Range here of ordnance and sharpened the capabilities of Kentucky Airmen and Indiana State Police hazardous devices technicians.
"This is a win-win situation for us and the Kentucky Air National Guard," said Lt. Col. Craig Haggard, Commander, Joint Forces Air Component, Detachment 1, Indiana Air National Guard. "By regulation, we have to clean up the bombs on our range. We don't have an EOD team. Kentucky does, and when they come out here they're able to do training they can't do at home."
According to Colonel Haggard, the task of assigning range clearance is increasingly challenging based on worldwide demands for EOD techs. By incorporating Indiana emergency responders, the Kentucky Airmen and Indiana technicians improve their abilities for both states.
"There's only so much you can do in a classroom," explains Master Sgt. Shane Lagrone, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Kentucky's EOD shop. "This is a chance to help a neighbor and give our young guys the opportunity to get out and blow stuff up."
According to Sergeant Lagrone, the real-world mission of range maintenance is one of EOD's core tasks. It's a "bread-and-butter" job that involves identifying ordnance that may still contain explosives, lining these bombs up, connecting C-4, triggering a fuse and driving a safe distance away to watch the fireworks.
Safe, expended ordnance is then recycled or otherwise removed from the range.
Sergeant Lagrone, who was twice awarded the Bronze Star for combat service, said that, in the hands of professionals, the EOD job is safe -- safer at least than two tours spent clearing Iraq's highways of improvised explosive devices while under fire.
He said the opportunity to perform the mission in Indiana helps the Airmen build credibility with leadership in both states.
"Sometimes people think of us as cowboys," he said. "They think we just want to run off base blow stuff up -- knock down trees and everything. The truth is that, yes, we're going to race off base and do our job just like anybody else would. But we're very careful and educated about what we do. Our biggest fear is losing someone on a call."
In fact, one of the highlights of the deployment to Indiana was something that wasn't on anyone's agenda.
Shortly before the trip, Sergeant Squier was given an unfired piece of military ordnance that was in an aging Indiana woman's home. Senior Master Sgt. Lou Corner, EOD superintendent, was able to identify the ordnance and confirm the danger it posed in civilian hands.
According to Sergeant Squier, as World War II veterans pass on, their survivors occasionally inherit hand grenades, shells and other dangerous explosives that were brought home as souvenirs. Training with the Kentucky Airmen not only allowed the sergeant and a fellow officer to take a potentially deadly piece of weaponry out of the community, it helped them improve their skills at assessing military ordnance.
This exchange and experience working together may be especially important if military EOD members are ever tasked to respond to stateside emergencies.
"Everyone on our team has deployed at least once," Sergeant Corner said. "And we know it's just a matter of time before we go again. Being able to answer the nation's call is something we're proud of. At the same time, we want to be the best possible asset we can be for our Commonwealth if the state or our neighbors need our help. We're confident we can answer that call and perform whenever and wherever we're needed."