CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Since the beginning of the “Global War on Terror,” Marines have deployed to Southwest Asia and the Middle East for combat and support operations.
Explosive ordnance disposal Marines have been thrust into a central role to combat explosives and improvised explosive devices, the primary threat to U.S. forces in the region.
“This is the number one killer right now in theater,” said Gunnery Sgt. Mark Smith, 2nd platoon sergeant, 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion. “We have been training for a long time now and I know these Marines are ready for any situation.”
The Marines with 1st EOD have been training since September of last year in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan next month, ensuring their newest group of technicians is ready for the daunting task ahead.
“Right now we are focusing on refining our skills for the IED fight that is still going on in the country,” added Smith, a native of Sacramento. “[The team leaders] are observing and making sure the Marines have good [EOD] robot skills and will be able to run the robot efficiently in country and handle an IED safely without getting any one else harmed.”
The TALON robot is a military ordnance disposal robot that is used by EOD and bomb squads in the U.S. and deployed environments to unarm improvised explosive devises in areas like Iraq and Afghanistan.
With millions of unexploded ordinance in and around Afghanistan, insurgents have the opportunity to use them against coalition forces if not found and properly destroyed. This is why EOD technicians play a vital role in ensuring the safety of U.S. ground forces, and why their training is vital to their and their fellow service members’ survival.
Instructors also worked on the teams’ combat casualty care training and played out various scenarios simulating injuries to see if the Marines could get to and treat the “casualty” safely and efficiently. They inspected tactics to see if they are effectively executing the mission. This is especially important because the team will embed with infantry units while deployed, where often, multiple skills in their repertoire can be tested in a single mission.
Training with minimal equipment and vehicles that they will not be using in country, was just one of the challenges of this training, the scenarios were another.
“[The instructors] have been running several different IED scenarios,” said Sgt. Jason Cheng an EOD technician with 7th ESB. “They are placing IEDs in different locations and in different ways, drawing upon their own experiences so we can be built up as a team.”
The course allowed the Marines and sailors to see what some of the latest IEDs look like and how they are concealed on a trail.
Throughout the week, Marines and sailors take cultural classes to give them a better understanding of the people, geography and traditions of the southwest Asian country. They also learn a few basic phrases in Dari and Pashto - the two languages most predominantly spoken in Afghanistan. Included in the training are administrative and first aid classes, vehicle rollover training, as well as a day on the rifle range to refresh and sharpen their combat marksmanship. All sessions are loaded with vital information.
Marines say that although rewarding, their job can be very difficult.
“This is my first time deploying as an EOD technician and it’s an entirely different experience,” added Cheng, a native of San Jose, Calif., who previously deployed as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist. “I feel pretty confident, but at the same time there is still a little bit of fear. It’s okay though because they tell me fear is good because it will keep me alive.”
The team deploying is comprised of 1st EOD Platoon and augments from Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Motor Transportation Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, and Communications Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 17.
More than 60 Marines are slated to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.