On any given day, the Navy’s EOD sailors are deployed in just about every geographical command – and it’s not just Iraq or Afghanistan where explosive ordnance disposal technicians are putting their expertise to save lives and limbs. This week, one-quarter of the nearly-2,600 member EOD force is deployed, according to Navy Expeditionary Combatant Command, with EOD mobile and naval mobile diving and salvage units teams and platoons operating in Southern, Central, European, Africa and Pacific commands. EOD sailors also are participating in the biennial “Rim of the Pacific” exercises off Hawaii, joining in maritime security operations, disarming underwater mines and other explosives and tackling the challenge of command and control at sea and ashore in a more dispersed, joint battle space.
Despite the busy pace of operations and big demands for their expertise in an inherently dangerous business, EOD sailors aren’t fleeing the Navy. Top commanders say retention remains strong in the community. In West Coast-based EOD Group 1, for example, the Navy retained 90 percent of Zone A sailors and 89 percent of Zone B sailors, according to NECC figures. EOD Group 2, based in Virginia, has seen similar rates, a spokesman said. Those rates are 50 percent higher than what the Navy saw in 2008, when Zone A retention ran about 66 percent.
“Our retention rates have been very good,” Capt. Dale Fleck, the EOD Group 2 commodore, said in a July 21 teleconference interview with reporters. Sailors “enjoy it. They want to be here. They receive very good training. While the majority of them have had multiple deployments, we have had very good retention rates. It’s very important to actually keep them in the community and give them the experience.”
Sailors realize the critical value of what they bring with their experience, Capt. Ted Lucas, commodore for EOD Group 1, said from San Diego in the media teleconference with Fleck. “Sailors are doing a necessary thing they believe in,” Lucas said. “We are a combat force,” trained to face threats when they deploy and diffuse explosives, improved explosive devices, weapons of mass destruction and underwater mines, he added. “We are a central force (that) enables combat operations and maneuver.”
The work is varied, even in places like Iraq, where EOD technicians teach and train Iraqis as the country builds up its local bomb squads. In Iraq and Afghanistan, EOD sailors on a daily basis diffuse or detonate roadside bombs and improvised explosives that are the biggest enemy threat to U.S. and coalition forces. “We are very proactive in making sure we are up with the threats and enemy tactics,” Fleck said. “When we respond to an incident, whether it be an IED that has already been detonated or one that has been found, we perform render-safe and an analysis of the scene and the materials that are involved.” That information and intelligence is quickly shared among the joint forces and incorporated into existing training.
“Our trainers…keep up to speed with everything that is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Lucas said. “They are analyzing all different sources of information.” Sailors “get the most up-to-date training,” he added.
The rise in high-tech robotics isn’t about to push the sailor clear out of the community, the commanders said. “Our most critical asset is our sailor,” Lucas said. “We are a force not really platform-centric. Our sailors are our best asset.” Fleck agreed. “We are not ships and airplanes. The EOD operator is a highly-trained technician and who has skill sets,” he said. Without the human factor, “the mission cannot be performed.”