Photo Information

Sergeant Jeffrey W. Kilpatrick, a 30-year-old native of Fort Pierce, Fla., talks to Sgt. Bryan E. Carter, a 23-year-old native of Pleasant Hill, Iowa, while Carter operates a robot as the two respond to a reported improvised explosive device in Habbaniyah, Iraq, July 29, 2006. Kilpatrick serves as the demolitions expert while Carter specializes in robots for the explosive ordnance disposal team in support of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. The four man team, three Marines and one Navy corpsman, have had their hands full since arriving in April having responded to over 250 possible IEDs and other reported incidents; well over 100 of those calls have occurred since June.

Photo by Cpl. Daniel J. Redding

Long hours, extreme danger bonds Marine explosive ordnance team

3 Aug 2006 | Cpl. Daniel J. Redding 1st Marine Logistics Group

Jenny is dead, another casualty in the struggle to stabilize Iraq.

A robot used in counter-insurgency missions throughout the restive Al Anbar province, "Jenny," met her fate aiding a team of Marine explosive ordnance disposal technicians trying to disarm a deadly improvised explosive device.

With an uncanny calm, these four men willingly put their lives on the line every day, going face-to-face with the enemy's preferred weapon.  The bomb experts represent a chosen few in Iraq who's job is to handle the very thing most service members are trying to avoid.

Team Rogaine as they jokingly call themselves have been busy during their deployment to what is arguably the most dangerous province for U.S. service members in Iraq.

As an explosive ordnance disposal team supporting a Marine infantry battalion in a deadly corridor between Fallujah and Ramadi, the three EOD technicians and Navy corpsman have responded to more than 250 possible IEDs since arriving in April.

The team averages three to four calls a day, said Staff Sgt. Dwayne Williams, Team Rogaine's leader, who has suffered from random hair loss after three deployments to Iraq as an EOD technician.

"They say it's from the stress," said the 28-year-old Baltimore native.

A calm, quiet individual, Williams' laid-back personality is evident in the small, tight-knit team he leads.

Having a calm leader who is willing to spread the responsibility when the team is responding to a call is essential, said Sgt. Bryan E. Carter, who at 23, sports a receding hairline.

Williams has trained his team to be independent, able to make split second decisions that can often mean the difference between life and death.

"His leadership gives us all a piece of the pie," said Sgt. Jeffrey W. Kilpatrick. The oldest of the group with a clean shaven bald head, Kilpatrick is the boisterous one, happy to be found making a friendly raucous.

With IEDs injuring more service members than any other form of attack, the men know how much their expertise is needed and are glad to do their part.

"We have a really big impact on the mission," said Kilpatrick, a 30-year-old native of Fort Pierce, Fla. "Each time we take care of an IED, we're saving lives."

But each time they go to help someone else, they put their own lives at risk.

While recently responding to a call, the unit was hit by the very weapon they try to defeat.

Traveling on an unfamiliar road, the men had been leery of the area. Carter's last thought before an explosion suddenly blasted their vehicle was simply, "We're almost off this road."

Without warning, the front end of their Cougar vehicle was blown several feet into the air and quickly engulfed in flames.

Everyone's initial reaction was to turn and ensure the others were okay, said Carter. Moments later, Kilpatrick screamed for the three to leave the vehicle, worried about the gas tank exploding.

The three were able to rescue their robot and other gear from the vehicle. Less than a day later, the Cougar was replaced and the detachment was responding to another  call.

Since June, Team Rogaine, a part of the 1st EOD Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group based at nearby Camp Taqaddum, has gone on more than 100 missions, leaving little room in their schedule for sleep or personal time.

They share a closeness brought on by spending 24 hours-a-day together waiting for the next call, said Carter, a 23-year-old native of Pleasant Hill, Iowa.

Carter deployed to Iraq twice as an infantryman before moving into the EOD field after having seen the increasing profile of IEDs in the war. He compares their job to that of a narcotics detective taking drugs off the street one bust at a time.

"Every time we leave (on a mission), it feels like we're doing a good thing," he said.

Williams and the others know the enemy is watching and adapting, a fact that pushes them to always adjust their tactics with each IED they handle.

"I want to be able to take (IEDs) out of the hands of the enemy," said Williams, likening the experience to the enduring chase between the cat and the mouse. "It's almost like you're playing a game with the enemy."

The job is tough with small-arms fire and other attacks a regular occurrence while responding to the reported IEDs.

"It does put a beating on you, don't get me wrong," said Kilpatrick. "Your body just adapts to it."

The same demands that wear on the men of Team Rogaine also have a positive affect when it comes to them helping their fellow service members and local Iraqis.

The hectic schedule and insurgent attacks keep the EOD technicians sharp, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Joel M. Grey, the corpsman responsible for keeping the rest of Team Rogaine alive.

"You will never see sloppy EOD technicians... that's someone's life," said the 21-year-old native of Salmon Arm, British Columbia.

With a few months still left in their deployment, the team expects to stay busy.

"(Disarming IEDs is) a job that needs to be done," said Williams, "It's an honor to be out here, doing what we do," he said.

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