AL ASAD, Iraq -- One of the greatest and most dangerous obstacles Marines face while supporting struggle for freedom and the security of the people of Iraq is the improvised explosive device.
One of the most persistent obstacles insurgents who employ these devices face is the Marines and sailors of Explosive Ordnance Disposal.
The Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 EOD team works each day to ensure the safe disposal of all things that ‘go boom’ aboard the air base and throughout the surrounding area.
Responding to calls for suspicious packages and conducting clearing sweeps, for the removal of unexploded ordnance and IEDs, explosive ordnance disposal technicians are trained and equipped to support the airfield and surrounding areas.
Responding to more than160 calls in the three months they have been here, the team has been busy removing unexploded ordnance throughout the air base and outlying
Unexploded ordnance is any type of munition that has been fired, but did not function as designed. Because Al Asad was heavily targeted by American aircraft during the Gulf War, and later abandoned by the Iraqi military under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the potential for unexploded and abandoned ordnance remains high.
“Our primary mission [here] is to support the airfield,” said Chief Warrant Officer Bradley Garfield, EOD officer in charge and native of Burlington, Vt. “Our skills are necessary because every aircraft here is flying with live ordnance. Therefore, there is always potential for an emergency involving ordnance on the aircraft.”
“Ordnance items are designed to kill and maim,” Garfield said. “The items we have recovered are still very dangerous.”
Because there is no way to rule out the possibility that an item can still function, the removal of unexploded ordnance is very important to the safety of those working and living here.
According to Garfield some explosives actually become more sensitive with age and exposure to the elements. The formation of explosive salts and crystals over time can make what appears to be a rusted out dud, turn out to be a deadly accident waiting to happen.
Although the airfield is the team’s primary mission, they have supported a wide variety of calls ranging from controlled detonations of unserviceable ammunition to responding to and removing IEDs on the main and auxiliary supply routes.
In describing the feeling of working on a roadside bomb, Garfield said EOD technicians have to balance their focus on the task at hand while keeping their eyes on what’s going on around them.
“It’s definitely an eye opening experience,” Garfield said. “There are so many factors to keep in mind. You have to be cognizant of the fact that 90 percent of the time there is a secondary explosive, specifically there for you.”
According to Garfield, most explosive ordnance technicians might respond to one or two emergencies involving explosive devices throughout their career in a garrison environment, the MWSS-271 team has already responded to and defeated nine.
As teams from the different branches of service work throughout Iraq, combating explosive devices ranging from roadside bombs to vehicle borne explosive devices, the knowledge they gain with each call is shared throughout the explosive ordnance disposal community.
“The enemy is constantly changing his tactics,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brian Branch, EOD technician and native of Fitzgerald, Ga. “So, it is essential that we are constantly communicating, training and adjusting our tactics to stay ahead of him.”
Each time a team responds to a call, data from the incident goes into a database that EOD Marines and sailors read and study on a daily basis. Along with the database - meetings, phone calls, and e-mail to help the bomb techs stay ahead of the enemy.
“If we don’t know what’s going on out there, the first time we are going to find out that enemy tactics have changed is when it might be too late,” Branch added.
While explosive ordnance disposal might not be the right job for everyone, the dedicated efforts of the technicians have saved countless lives of service members during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Every day is a reminder that you are helping to save lives,” Branch said. “We have defeated thousands of IEDs since the beginning of the war, and even if it’s only one life for each, that’s still 1,000 service members.”
*For more information about the Marines or news reported on in this story, please contact Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis by e-mail at email@example.com*