Hill AFB, Utah, will hold a memorial service this Friday, honoring three of its own who died recently in Iraq.
The three airmen--Technical Sergeant Timothy Weiner, Senior Airman Elizabeth Loncki and Senior Airman Daniel Miller--were killed on January 7th, by a car bomb in Iraq.
Sadly, such news has become an almost daily occurrence in Iraq. But the deaths of TSgt Weiner, SrA Loncki and SrA Miller were not the result of an IED that shattered their passing HUMVEE, or targeted a security patrol. Weiner, Loncki and Miller were Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians, members of an elite group of military specialists who disarm and clear explosive devices. They were apparently working on the car bomb when it exploded, killing them instantly. A fourth airman was injured by the blast.
Bomb squads are sometimes depicted in movies or television shows, often cutting the "last wire" just seconds before a device goes off. That's a part of the EOD job, but the mission emcompasses much, much more. It takes almost a year for the military to train an EOD tech, regardless of the branch of service, but their education never stops. An EOD technician must be familiar with the design, fuzing and related mechanics for all types of military ordnance (U.S. and foreign-made), and be able to render them "safe." And, EOD personnel must also be expert in the handling and disarming of improvised explosive devices, like those encountered daily in Iraq.
Describing Iraq as the first, true EOD war might be an understatement. IED attacks have become a daily event in that country, but thanks to improvements in training, technology and the dedication of EOD teams, more than 40% of the explosive devices are detected and neutralized before they can go off. Americans shocked by our losses in Iraq should understand that the death toll would be much higher, if not for the effort of our EOD teams who make the roads a little safer for convoys, patrols and ordinary road traffic.
A little over a year ago, I had a lengthy conversation with an Army analyst who has followed the IED issue for several years. The analyst's description of ever-evolving terrorist tactics underscored the challenge faced by our EOD troops. Since the U.S. invasion, the bad guys have placed bombs in virtually anything they can find; piles of roadside debris; embankments, mounds of garbage, children's toys, on the back-side of highway guardrails, even in the carcasses of dead animals. And, the devices themselves have grown progressively more complex, more difficult to neutralize, and more dangerous to the EOD techs who respond. Making matters worse, the terrorists have proved resourceful in developing new ways to detonate their bombs remotely, using everything from cell phones, to garage door openers.
Into that environment, we send professionals like TSgt Weiner, SrA Loncki and SrA Miller. And they go willingly, ready to accept the risks that come with their job. This undated article from the Air Force Press Service mirrors my own experiences with EOD technicians. They are a breed apart, eager to practice their craft and accomplish the mission; hardly fatalistic, but with a full understanding that the next call could be their last.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Technical Sergeant Weiner, Senior Airman Loncki and Senior Airman Miller. Remember their service and sacrifice the next time you see a news report from Iraq and remember: for every car bombing or IED blast reported on the evening news, there was another one that didn't go off, thanks to the skill and heroism of our EOD techs.
The EOD Memorial is located at Eglin AFB, Florida, where military bomb disposal personnel are trained. If you're in the area, take time for a visit. Also consider a donation to the EOD Memorial fund, which awards an annual scholarship to the son or daughter of a fomer EOD tech.
Finally, I'd also recommend the British series "Danger UXB" for those interested in the wartime exploits of an EOD team. The 13-episode British drama (which aired in 1981), follows British Army EOD techs as they defuse German bombs dropped during the Blitz. It's possibly the best media depiction of EOD duty and its associated hazards, even if it is a work of fiction. Danger UXB is now available on DVD from Amazon and other retailers.