LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --
You see it all the time in the movies. The laser-sharp focus in a person’s eyes while beads of sweat drip down the wrinkles on their forehead. The slow, precise motions of their hands as they slowly move their tools to cut the right wire in order to flawlessly stop the ticking of the timer.
As intriguing as the movies may be, they never quite show the full story. You never get to see the tireless training these teams put in and the numerous other challenges they face.
The Explosive Ordnance Disposal team at Little Rock Air Force Base completes countless hours of training and faces ample challenges in order to provide support to not only the base, but also to the entire state of Arkansas.
Herk Nation’s EOD team spends a lot of their time traveling across Arkansas and even into parts of Mississippi and Tennessee to support a variety of military installations.
“The majority of our job is responding off base,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jacob Hamilton, EOD flight chief. “We respond, on average, 25 to 30 times a year off base, whether it’s in support of other installations in the state of Arkansas, such as Fort Chaffee, Camp Robinson or Pine Bluff and we are also the EOD team for Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.”
In addition to military installations, the EOD team supports local, state and federal law enforcement agencies with cases throughout the state for which they may be better equipped.
“Here within the state, if any of the local, state or federal bomb squads, who we work very close with, find military ordnance, they call us and we are required to respond to deal with the explosives because they are not equipped or trained to handle it,” Hamilton said.
While some EOD teams may only see a few calls per year, Herk Nation’s team sees a few calls per month, which keeps the team on their feet and ready to take action.
“The amount of reportable incidents we have here is very high,” Hamilton said. “For a lot of people it’s an eye-opener coming from places that don’t have the level of unexploded ordnance activity that we experience. When people come here, I don’t think they realize the sheer volume of UXO work that are going to see.”
With varying calls to respond to, it is crucial the team stays up-to-date with their training to be able to properly control situations under any circumstance.
“We are required by Air Force Instruction to conduct 16 hours of training per week, per person,” Hamilton said. “We train on EOD’s 10 core mission areas, which encompasses anything from Secret Service support to nuclear weapons, as well as our own classes for scenarios that we commonly run into in Arkansas.”
Training is not the same as it was a few years ago. Now more experienced EOD technicians are able to impart their knowledge and wisdom from their hands-on training to the younger generations.
“I think the nice thing for the young Airmen is they are getting to learn from our experiences as opposed to learning on the fly,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Caine Nielsen, EOD team leader. “I think they have a better-rounded training environment nowadays.”
This shift in training methods has been an adjustment to some of the more senior technicians as they transitioned from hands-on training down range to more home station training.
“I joined in January 2002 and jumped head-first into the Global War on Terrorism,” Hamilton said. “That was pretty much the EOD way of life up until about 2013 to 2015. I learned how to operate, supervise and be successful in EOD during a wartime contingency environment.”
Unlike earlier training when Airmen learned hands-on with mostly improvised explosive devices during wartime, the new training is designed to drill in all aspects of EOD, which helps prepare Airmen to be ready for any possible call they may get.
“Now that we are able to broaden our focus, I think we are getting stronger with our other 10 mission areas,” Hamilton said.
These in-depth training methods help by providing technicians with new approaches and if they fail, they are able to find a way to work around it themselves.
“I have some of the most well-rounded operators,” Hamilton said. “They get to try different things and realize what works and what doesn’t.”
From all the training Team Little Rock’s EOD team does to all the challenges the team has faced, the team agrees camaraderie is crucial in such a high-stress job.
“No matter what branch you interact with, if you’re EOD, there’s a level of camaraderie that you don’t get anywhere else,” Nielsen said. “No matter who you talk to in EOD, we’re all part of the same fight.”