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Bomb squad embraces pressure of no fail mission

  • Published
  • By Michelle Gigante
  • 919th Special Operations Wing

As he peered around the corner at what he suspected to be an improvised explosive device, a drip of sweat grazed across Simon Ward’s forehead. He knew his role was to identify, render safe and dispose of the threat.

“You are sweating, tired and in this heavy bomb suit, and simultaneously thinking about all these things from the electronics all the way down to the specifics of the circuits,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Simon Ward, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 919th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron. “I like that you are challenged mentally and physically."

While this was only a training scenario, having to render safe an IED is a distinct possibility when EOD technicians are working in real world situations. These EOD experts are the U.S. Air Force’s bomb squad, and Airmen with the 919th SOCES make up the only Reserve special operations EOD team in the Air Force.

To join the EOD career field, Airmen must complete an additional physical fitness test to ensure they will be able to handle the physical demands they endure on the job. Technicians sometimes wear heavy bomb suits for long periods of time which requires both mental and physical endurance.

Wearing the bomb suit while performing ordnance disposal tasks is just one aspect of the job. Technicians also work with remotely-controlled robots and X-ray equipment to analyze and disarm unknown munitions and explosives.

“I have discovered the career field has a variety of options,” said Ward. “There’s always something different to do each day—when you have mastered one skill, it builds on itself and that interests me.”

Like their active duty counterparts, Reserve EOD technicians also train in several mission sets ranging from counter-IED training to unexploded ordnance recovery operations.

“We work a lot with the bomb squads in local law enforcement,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Steve Stone, the EOD team lead with the 919th SOCES. “Within our first year, our team had the opportunity to search a venue for the president to confirm the area was safe from explosive hazards.”

Another aspect unique to the career field is the unit’s collaboration with the local community. The 919th SOCES and the 1st SOCES at Hurlburt Field, Florida, team-up to train together with bomb squads throughout the Emerald Coast.

“I think just being integrated here is incredible,” said Ward. “We put in long days, completing, arguably, the most mentally and emotionally demanding school in the Department of Defense.”

The training exercises help develop their skills to better equip them for real-world threats. Whether it is doing upgrade training or reading an EOD training book, EOD Airmen train together in small teams for real-world scenarios and learn from each other’s experiences.

“With it being such a small career field, everybody knows somebody,” said Stone.

“You have to be very motivated in this career field because EOD school is one of the longest and toughest tech schools,” said Stone. “There are great incentives—EOD technicians receive special duty pay, demolition pay and the camaraderie is also a really great aspect of the job.”

To learn more about becoming an EOD technician with the 919th SOW, contact the Air Force Reserve Recruiters at 850-883-6385.