Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Most Dangerous Job in Iraq, Redux

The EOD Memorial at Eglin AFB, Florida. Fifteen EOD technicians died in the line of duty last year (EOD Memorial Committee photo)

Funeral services will be Friday at Arlington National Cemetery for Technical Sergeant Anthony Capra. Sergeant Capra, a 31-year-old native of Fredericksburg, VA, was one of two airmen who died earlier this month in Iraq. He is also the seventh Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians to be killed in the line of duty since 2006.

According to an Air Force statement, Technical Sergeant Capra died of wounds from an improvised explosive device at a place called Golden Hills, Iraq, near the Syrian border. Subsequent accounts indicate that Capra was attempting to disarm a second IED at the site when it exploded, killing him instantly.

At the time of his death, Sergeant Capra was deployed from the 688th Armament Systems Squadron at Indian Head, Maryland. Before that, he was a member of the EOD flight at Eglin AFB, Florida, where Capra was remembered as an outstanding technician and leader:

"It's a huge hit to the Eglin EOD flight because we knew Tony personally," Capt Shane Firth, EOD flight commander said in an Air Force press release. "We won't be able to forget his character and the way he represented the EOD community. The impact is tremendous on the local troops here."

Capra spent four years as a member of the Eglin EOD team, winning a Bronze Star in 2006 for his actions during a previous deployment to the Middle East. Like other EOD technicians, Sergeant Capra logged plenty of time in war zones. He was on his fourth combat deployment at the time of his death.

With his passing, Capra's name will be added to the EOD Memorial at Eglin, during a ceremony that is held every spring. This year's event, scheduled for 2 May, will honor 15 EOD technicians who died in 2007 and two others who perished in earlier conflicts. Sergeant Capra's name will be placed on the memorial in 2008.

Much has been written about the effort to find (and neutralize) IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Billions of dollars have been spent on new technologies, ranging from robots and UAVs, to various jamming devices. Amid that expenditure, we often forget that the difficult task of clearing IEDs that are discovered still falls on the men and women who wear the EOD badge.

The tragic death of Technical Sergeant Capra reminds us of the risks they take willingly, on our behalf. It takes a special breed of hero to make the long walk downrange to an IED or unexploded round, keenly aware that you may never return. Sergeant Capra made that walk many times. His fellow technicians are doing the same thing today, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you're traveling through the Florida panhandle, take a few minutes and visit the EOD Memorial at Eglin. And by all means, consider a donation to the EOD Memorial Committee, based in Niceville, Florida. Their scholarship fund awards more than $60,000 a year to deserving students, the sons and daughters of current and former EOD technicians.


Unknown said...

TSgt Capra's father works for my company. We received notice of his son's death last week.

Thank you for providing more information. The announcement we received did not do justice to this fine man. I think your post did.

Stu Steinberg said...

Thanks so much for your article. I am ex-Army EOD, 18 months in Vietnam. I am currently in Afghanistan--at the age of 62--working for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime as an advisor to the Afghan Border Police on the Iranian border. These men and women who perform this job are heroes for all Americans to look up to, particularly the 79 who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including two women, by my most recent count. In the entire Vietnam War, we lost 37. People need to know what these men and women do every day over here and I hope you will continue to report the real news.