Cradle to grave

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Rushing into a burned-down house with the body of a suicide victim to search for small-arms ammunition, military munitions and unexploded ordnance sounds like a scene from a movie, but for the 366th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team this was a reality on May 13.

After receiving a call at 1 a.m. requesting help from the local police department in Cottonwood, Idaho, the EOD standby team prepared to leave first thing that morning.

Arriving at the scene midday, the team spent roughly six hours assisting the Cottonwood PD in finding and removing ordnance items and hazardous ammunition from the home.

"We went through the entire place, found all the munitions and took all of them out [of the house]," Senior Airman Travis Freitas, 366th CES EOD journeyman said. "We were walking through again - [the victim] had a lot of boxes of stuff - so we started checking through, peeking in boxes and that's when we started finding box after box of ammunition."

More than 100 ordnance items, 27,826 rounds of civilian ammunition and multiple loaded firearms were discovered after thoroughly searching the home.

While this may seem extreme, the only thing unordinary about the call was the amount of items found, explained Airman 1st Class Trevor Sellers, EOD apprentice.

"It's not impossible for these things to happen weekly or daily," he said.

Once everything was removed from the house the organizing began.

"Seeing that amount of things all in one place at one time kind of catches you by surprise," Freitas said, "But at the end of the day it's all the same stuff; just sorting and organizing."

The team uses their resources to determine what is what, and how threatening it may be.

With over 36,000 Technical Orders that go over every different piece of ordnance, EOD has a computer system to help differentiate between the items.

"We do a search based on different criteria," explained Senior Airman Brandon Radlick, EOD journeyman, "Size, colors, what we know that it's most likely loaded with, the nomenclature that's stamped or stenciled on it, and that brings up an item and procedures and identifying characteristics for that item."

All questionable items were set aside, and once everything was determined to be safe enough to transport, the team moved to a detonation site.

They go to the nearest site that can withstand a detonation - and usually, the local PD will provide a place - and lay out the explosives, Sellers said. Only the team members doing the detonating stay to get everything primed in and connected. Once everybody is at a safe distance, determined by the amount of explosives being used, they will initiate the detonation.

Freitas explains the rule EOD lives by - cradle to grave - it's one of the very first things they learn going through technical school, and something they have to stick to for their entire career.

"From the day it's made to the very end of its use or its life cycle, whether it's disposed of in an operation or if it happens to be [lying somewhere], it's our responsibility," he said.

While this all may seem overwhelming and surreal, this is the norm for EOD. This is what they train for; this is what they signed up to do.

With rigorous schedules mandating a minimum of 24 hours of training per week, both Sellers and Freitas said it almost becomes a second nature, muscle memory.

Radlick explained the training is constant and consistent which allows them to maintain the safety aspect needed in real-world situations. Freitas added, by training together each member is able to know the other's strength and weaknesses, which helps with unit cohesiveness.

When it comes time to perform, the members seem to be at ease. With nerves ceasing to exist, training mode takes over.

"I don't think about it, I just know what to do," Sellers said.

EOD takes pride in what they do and enjoys putting their training to use while realizing the responsibility they have taken on to protect not only service members, but the surrounding communities as well.

"I feel like it's more than just the public perception," Radlick said, "It's our duty to the country, it's our duty to the people of the nation to deal with the things other people aren't qualified for, or are unable to deal with."