SANGIN DISTRICT, Afghanistan --
The Sangin District of Helmand Province, Afghanistan is infamous for being an insurgent stronghold. Throughout the past several years, coalition forces have engaged and eliminated multiple enemy fighters.
Currently, Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, is responsible for maintaining security in the area. The primary threat in the congested district located near the Helmand River has been and continues to be the improvised explosive device.
Supporting the infantry company against the explosive threats are two, two-man Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams.
“Our job in Afghanistan is to identify, render safe and dispose of explosive hazards,” said Staff Sgt. Edward Marini, EOD team leader, 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “We support the infantry company and help ensure their maneuver capability.”
The emplacement of IEDs continues to be the insurgents’ number one tactic of engaging coalition forces on the battlefield, and the two EOD teams based at Forward Operating Base Shamsher are prepared to travel throughout their area of operations at a moment’s notice to investigate, remove or destroy any explosive hazards the infantry company may encounter.
“We support the infantry company as they need us – basically we are on call throughout the day,” said Sgt. Michael Smith, an EOD technician and assistant team leader. “Additionally, if they feel it’s necessary, or if we feel it’s necessary, we will embed with and go on routine patrols or named operations.”
Preparing for Combat Operations
Dealing with IEDs, unexploded ordnance and other explosives is not an easy task. Doing it in a combat zone makes it even more difficult.
“You don’t have the chance for a do-over when it comes to explosives – you get one shot,” said Sgt. Brenden Burnham, an EOD technician and assistant team leader.
While the job of dealing with live ordnance and IEDs is complex and stressful, EOD technicians spend months learning their craft and preparing to deploy.
“It’s not an eight-month course you go through, and then all of a sudden you are blessed with all these skills – it’s an ever changing, ever adapting learning situation that you find yourself in,” said Burnham, a Phoenix native.
Because of the enemy’s varying devices and tactics, the EOD Marines are constantly learning new ways to deal with the threats.
“I think the big thing is training,” Smith said. “I feel like we are very thorough in our training, and it better prepared me. I have heard all the horror stories about Sangin and about Afghanistan in general, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But throughout the training, my team leader and I became closer and better.”
Since arriving in Afghanistan in April, the EOD teams supporting Company B have done more than just eliminate explosive hazards on the battlefield. The four EOD technicians have also played a vital role in training the infantry Marines about IEDs and other enemy tactics in their area of operations.
“Based on the threat in the area, we try to conduct our training toward that,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Conlon, an EOD team leader at FOB Shamsher and a Rockaway, N.J. native. “We teach them things they can do to mitigate risk, as well as be able to better locate any possible hazards they might encounter in the battlespace.
“We do training with the [infantrymen] as needed, and we do reset training at least once a month. We will let them know what we have seen and what they should be looking out for.”
Having EOD technicians spread throughout Helmand Province supporting infantry companies is critical to successful operations and has saved countless lives.
“The infantrymen and engineers go out and find the IEDs, but it is EOD that removes them and exploits the device,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen LaRose, the Regimental Combat Team 6 gunner. “Their expertise and dedicated study of enemy [tactics and techniques] directly correlates to defeating the device. EOD [technicians] are vital to the counter IED team with the infantry.”
The EOD technicians accomplish their mission and enjoy working alongside one another in a combat zone.
“I get to serve with some of the finest Marines you will ever meet, which are in the EOD community,” Burnham said.
While the EOD technicians are supported by each other while forward deployed, the Marines think support from back home is just as important.
“I think the biggest thing in the military in general, especially in a higher risk job, is having family support,” Smith said. “That’s a big thing that I have. My family is 100 percent behind me. Especially my wife, she is very supportive of everything I do. I think that’s especially important in the EOD field. I am not concerned about my family back home worrying. They know what I do. They know that I am trained for it. They should feel safe knowing that it’s not just me out here. Everyone is looking out for each other.”