EOD Airmen in Iraq prepare for an explosive battle in Afghanistan
By Staff Sgt. R. Michael Longoria, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force - Iraq Public Affairs
/ Published April 10, 2011
ALI AIR BASE, Iraq -- For most Airmen, creativity is highly encouraged. However, for explosive ordnance disposal technicians, thinking outside the box and the ability to forecast the enemy's next move are absolute requirements.
"We are fighting against guys who don't have set tactics; they are ever evolving," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Glenn Henthorn, 407th EOD team chief. "So, we need to be ever evolving because the battlefield is constantly changing."
Assigned to the 407th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron, the eight Air Force EOD technicians, including Sergeant Henthorn, are primarily responsible for keeping the Ali Air Base, Iraq, airfield fully operational.
"The biggest threat we face is indirect fire attacks from outside the wire," said Master Sgt. Heath Temple, 407th EOD element chief and native of North Pole, Alaska. "We get out there to reduce the damage and impact on the mission from rockets, mortars or anything else that could strike the airfield."
The team helps Army EOD technicians respond to other areas of the base as well.
"With the courtesy of our Army brothers across the hall, we've been able to extend our mission to include the rest of the base," Sergeant Temple said. "As a result, we have handled a few suspicious packages and vehicle calls at the main entry control points. My guys have been able to stretch their legs, so to speak."
Few career fields give Airmen the instant gratification EOD technicians get every time they successfully complete a mission.
"The results are right there when you defuse the bomb," Sergeant Temple said. "It was your actions that eliminated the hazard."
Even with the added responsibilities, the team struggles to stay busy due to the lack of attacks on the base.
"It's slower than deployments in the past," said Sergeant Temple, deployed from Eielson AFB, Alaska. "It's a sign of the times, and it's a good thing."
Sergeant Temple's team has responded to only eight missions in nine weeks.
"In comparison, on my first tour to Iraq in 2005, I personally ran 275 missions during my 180-day deployment," Sergeant Temple said.
At a moment's notice, part of the team could be sent to Afghanistan to help fill mission requirements.
"We stay occupied with training in the event we get pushed forward," Sergeant Temple said. "If, God forbid, something were to happen to one of the teams over there, we would go forward and replace them. It's with that thought in mind that we train so relentlessly while we are here."
For them, training is taken seriously and is more than a way to fill dead space between missions.
"Why waste our time?" said Sergeant Henthorn, who is also deployed from Eielson AFB. "Let's get out here and sharpen our skills. We test each other with various scenarios to pass the time and stay proficient at what we do. Today might be slow but that doesn't mean tomorrow will be."
The main reason the team takes the time to train is because of the catastrophic outcomes that could occur if they fail to do make the right call when they are on patrol.
"We realize what's at stake; we don't need to be reminded," Sergeant Temple said. "We are focused during training because we know what's on the line."
"If we can't defuse the situation properly, people would get hurt or, even worse, killed," Sergeant Henthorn added.
To ensure their training is as up to date as possible, the team runs through scenarios based on recent events other teams have encountered in the field.
"We download the latest story boards to use as guides while creating scenarios," Sergeant Temple said. "The information is straight off the front lines. We try and recreate what our brothers and sisters are facing in Afghanistan. We want to be prepared for the biggest threat we could face."
Another reason continuous training is so important is the enemy keeps changing its tactics.
"Terrorists adapt and we have to adapt with them," Sergeant Henthorn said. "When they try something new, we need to try something new. We have to stay on top of the current way they are operating against us."
While the team trains for the harshest conditions they could see in Afghanistan, they don't neglect what could happen in Iraq.
"We stay focused on our mission here," Sergeant Temple explained. "We keep our critical links with other emergency response elements intact in the event something should happen but, with the slower operations tempo, we fill the remaining time training in case we should be forward deployed."