By Staff Sgt. Matthew Benedetti, Public Affairs Journalist, 104th Fighter Wing
/ Published February 06, 2011
Barnes Air National Guard Base, 104 Fighter Wing - Westfield, Mass -- "We preserve lives, we don't take lives," said Tech. Sgt. Greg Pauli, 104th Explosive Ordinance Disposal Flight (EOD) member and two time recipient of the Bronze Star.
Members of the 104th FW Explosive Ordnance Unit know that they are saving lives while performing the complex, critical tasks associated with defusing live ordnances designed to kill coalition service members. Insurgents continue to employ roadside bombs as their preferred weapon of choice against coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. These three man teams are also keenly aware of the growing reliance on their skill and expertise by all forward operating units in the perpetually changing modern battlefield.
EOD teams have become essential components of any successful mission, and the contributions of these specialized units cannot be underestimated. The ranks of these units are comprised of extraordinary brave men and women. Since 2005, 13 EOD Airmen have lost their lives in operations and seventy-eight have been wounded. Although their rules of engagement change depending on their location, one element remains constant; each mission is fraught with unknown peril.
As one Barnes ANGB Team Leader described, "we typically support Army units, but will often assist Marines, British SAS as well as Canadian and Australian forces. Every situation is different-We have guidance on how to proceed, and then are also given the authority to deviate. We are competing against the bomb maker, and you have to be able to adapt to what they are doing,"
Although he indicates that no "typical call" exists, Pauli describes a common circumstance faced by EOD members. "During a threat assessment a soldier will call in a possible IED, and the EOD Teams often find different scenarios-the location of the IED could be different every time," he said. "We conduct an investigation and produce an evidence package," he added.
The teams attempt to ascertain whether the device was dropped, the connection to the fuse, sophistication level and the intended target among other items. They also remain mindful of secondary explosives. "Complacency is the enemy," Pauli states.
Weather conditions are a factor. In August, makeshift explosives will most likely not be dug as deep due to the hard soil. Conversely, in March the explosives discovered are much deeper in the soil. Often the information gathered will provide the intelligence necessary to neutralize enemy cells responsible for placing these lethal explosives. "It is a real cat and mouse game," said Pauli. This game starts right at EOD school where training as an EOD technician begins.
EOD Flight falls under the Civil Engineering Squadron and was established here at the 104th in 2008. Members of this AFSC undergo 9 months of rigorous training at Eglin AFB in Florida. Job satisfaction is a common thread that binds members and draws them to this hazardous field. No stranger to the dangers of the EOD career field is Tech. Sgt. Jeremiah McClosky.
A native of Monson, McClosky, served on active duty for 11 years prior to joining the Guard. A Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, he relishes his role. "I love my job and would be miserable doing anything else," he relates. "I go to work and believe that I accomplished something."
The adrenaline rush is great and it is often hard to return to base and unwind. After a successful mission he says," I feel more relief than anything and you are happy to have done something positive."
"Sometimes it becomes commonplace and we say 'Next'," said McClosky. He enjoys the camaraderie among his colleagues and acknowledges a certain gallows humor within the career field. Prior to missions they would often remark, "I got a bad feeling about this one." Humor always helps to relieve the tension. Probably one of the more entertaining guys in the EOD shop is Tech. Sgt. Robert Eisnor.
Eisnor, a veteran of a tour in Iraq, is preparing for his imminent deployment to Afghanistan. He recalls how his recruiter guided him into his career field. "Initially, I wanted to join Security Forces," he recalls with a laugh. "I love what I do and wouldn't trade it for anything," said the Worcester native. A traditional guardsman who works as a Bomb Appraiser Officer for the TSA, Eisnor is taking advantage of all the pre-deployment training including courses taught by the ATF. He personifies the spirit and commitment demonstrated by EOD technicians as they frequently deploy overseas to save lives.