military is having a hard time keeping its EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)
force of about 5,000 technicians up to strength. Since September 11, 2001,
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 56 EOD techs, and put several
hundred out of the business because of injuries. Many more have left the
service when their time was up. About a thousand new EOD techs are trained each
year (after surviving a 30-35 percent failure rate in school). The Department
of Defense has one EOD school, at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Each service
has special EOD needs that they take care of themselves (navy techs, for
example, have to sometimes work under water, so they also go to diving school.)
The thousands of combat experienced EOD techs have left the military in the
past five years has been a boon for municipalities and security firms looking
for such people. The civilian jobs pay more, and are not as dangerous.
While the military expects many of the newly trained techs to get out
after 4 years, they try real hard to hang on to the leaders (officers and
senior NCOs) of EOD teams (who are also techs). They are offered bonuses that
add up to, in some cases, over $25,000 a year. There are also several different
bonuses paid to EOD techs operating in a combat zone. There, EOD teams (usually
eight people) can average 3-4 calls a day, and lots of stress. You really work
for the few hundred extra dollars a month (it varies by service, a sore point
in the EOD community).
Because of new technology, the job is actually a lot less dangerous than
in the past. The widespread use of special robots, which use a video camera and
a mechanical arm to allow the EOD technician to examine, and even disarm, an
IED (improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb) from a distance, is the
most visible new technology. But there are also new electronic devices, which
enable EOD techs to prevent wireless detonators on IEDs from going off. Details
of many of the new EOD electronic tools are kept secret, since the enemy can
develop countermeasures if they know too much about what EOD has in their tool
kit. The EOD technicians have also found remote control toy trucks useful, for
delivering explosives to an IED that could not be disarmed, and appears to
still be under the control of enemy operators. The toy truck carries an
explosive charge, and a wireless detonator, to destroy the IED. If the hidden enemy
can see all this, and decides to set off the IED as the toy truck approaches,
the EOD team has prevented the loss of a hundred thousand dollar robot, in
exchange for a hundred dollar toy truck.
For two years, from late 2005 to late 2007, the use of IEDs skyrocketed.
The U.S. Army EOD teams were overwhelmed, and this is when the air force and
navy sent nearly half their EOD techs to help out. Still, the waiting time for
an EOD team went from 20 minutes in early 2005, to several hours a year later. To
help ease the strain on EOD, robots were handed out to combat and
transportation units, with instructions on how to use the simpler methods of
dealing with IEDs (aside from taking your troops around it, you can use the
robot to look closely at the suspicious object, and if it is an IED, have the robot
drop some explosives, move the droid away and blow the sucker up.)
Another solution was training local troops to handle EOD work. Training
Iraqi EOD teams took time, even if they had already done that job in the old
Iraqi army. Seems that the old Iraqi army EOD standards were quite a bit
different, and more dangerous. So lots of retraining was needed. The Iraqi EOD
specialists don't mind, because they get the American robots and some of the
other gear, to use. This makes their work a lot safer, and they need all the
help they can get. As more Iraqi troops take control of security in parts of
central Iraq (where nearly all the IED activity has been), the Iraqis get hit
with more IEDs. Indeed, the terrorists and anti-government forces often
concentrated on the Iraqi army and
police., hitting them with lots of IEDs, believing they would be easier targets
than the Americans. Didn't turn out that way, as the Iraqi security forces
spoke the language, and had an easier time spotting IEDs, or getting advance
warning from local civilians.
Since the Surge Offensive of 2007, the enemy IED campaign has basically
collapsed. There are still IEDs out there, but far fewer (as in over 80 percent
fewer). Still, the U.S. Army wants to double the number of new EOD techs it
sends through the Elgin school, for a while anyway, so as to give the weary EOD
tech veterans of Iraq, 2005-7, some more rest. That would increase the annual U.S.
output to 1,500 EOD technicians.
All the services have been encouraging more troops to volunteer for EOD
school. To that end, all but the marines have waived, for the moment, the old
requirement that you needed at least two years to active service (to make sure
you had your basic military discipline habits down cold) before going to EOD
school. Now, many EOD students are right out of basic. The attrition (in the
school) is a little higher with these kids, but they do about the same as
everyone else once they get through EOD school.
American EOD has been dramatically changed by the war on terror, and has
become a much more high tech, and combat experienced, force. Never before has
EOD been showered with so much money and resources to develop new equipment.
They are making the most of it, because they know that, once Iraq and Afghanistan
settle down, their budget will shrink dramatically.