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Raising Army EOD Entry Requirements

Soldiers currently entering the Army can elect to become explosive ordnance disposal technicians if they meet certain minimum requirements. The author proposes strengthening these requirements to improve the quality of potential EOD Soldiers.

An Army recruit has a variety of military occupation specialties (MOSs) from which to choose. One of those is MOS 89D, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) specialist. An individual who is not color blind and has a score of 126 or higher on the general technical section of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is eligible for this MOS. These requirements are less stringent than Marine Corps EOD requirements, which mandate that EOD Marines be at least 21 years of age and have the rank of sergeant or of corporal with a waiver.

The Army EOD field recently made its legacy companies modular, effectively doubling the size of EOD units in order to support ongoing missions around the world. With the rapid increase in the number of EOD Soldiers over the past 7 years, the Army is steadily reaching its EOD recruiting goals. However, the Army still has a significant deficit of EOD-certified team leaders.

EOD Soldier Quality Issues

In the 1940s, when the field of EOD was born after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was concern over who should be trained to perform the duties of a technician. The Chief of Ordnance noted that volunteers could not be properly trained or disciplined for the hazards the job brings and that only professional Soldiers could develop the skills and experience needed for such work.

Some argue that the increase in quantity resulting from the emphasis on recruiting EOD Soldiers has reduced the professionalism and job dedication of today's technicians. Critics note that this problem was created by the Army's seemingly lax entry standards, particularly those regarding prior military service time. More stringent requirements will mean that fewer EOD Soldiers are recruited, but new standards may enhance quality among EOD Soldiers.

Moving toward stricter requirements like those of the Marine Corps may be difficult to enforce until the Army meets its fill requirements for enlisted EOD Soldiers. However, stricter standards would promote the selection of more professional and knowledgeable prior-service junior Soldiers. It may also reduce risks and enhance the safety of the three-Soldier EOD teams.

Spartan Field Kitchen
(Air force photo by SSG Jason Bailey)

Proposed Change to EOD Requirements

Although the following proposed change of entry requirements has inherent difficulties, particularly in reaching recruiting goals for the expanding EOD field, I feel the following constraint should be made to the Army's current standard for new EOD Soldiers: enlisted Soldiers should not be allowed entry into the EOD field unless they have achieved the rank of specialist and have at least 4 years of active-duty service. This would raise the overall age and maturity levels of those in the EOD field. It would also broaden the knowledge base of the Soldiers in EOD companies because new EOD Soldiers will have already worked in another MOS before becoming EOD technicians.

The large difference between an 18-year-old initial entry trainee and a 22-year-old military veteran should be noted. It all relates to maturity levels and life experience. Much of the maturity that is found in today's Soldier is formed during the first few years of his military experience with the help of a squad leader or platoon sergeant. Lacking maturity and professionalism increases the possibility of making mistakes in all MOSs.

The inherent risks in the EOD field will remain regardless of a minimum age requirement. According to Command Sergeant Major James H. Clifford, the deaths of EOD technicians should serve as a reminder that danger is found on any EOD mission, no matter how routine it may appear. In few fields in the military are mistakes as unforgiving as they are in EOD. The EOD motto says it best: “Initial Success or Total Failure.”

A junior Soldier is at times responsible for the safety of his team leader through his knowledge of the situation and the procedures for responding to an incident. An immature Soldier can jeopardize the integrity of the job, which can potentially lead to serious injury or death. Increasing the age at which a Soldier can apply, by requiring 4 years of prior service, could assist in eliminating elements of immaturity among new EOD recruits.

Advantages of Varied Experience

Another advantage of requiring a record of military service is that the potential candidates will bring expertise from other fields with them. EOD teams are often deployed in austere environments with limited support from external assets.

Modular EOD companies have communications, mechanical, and supply assets. Yet when an EOD unit deploys, these assets typically remain at the headquarters while the three-Soldier EOD teams are deployed to various locations. Thus, a team loses these assets and often must use the assets of the unit it supports.

This can be problematic for various reasons. The most challenging scenario the EOD team or platoon may face is if the supported unit puts the needs of the EOD team behind the needs of its own companies and platoons—rightfully so since units should always strive to provide for their own Soldiers first and foremost, yet the supporting unit always suffers.

If entry requirements into the EOD field were adjusted, Soldiers could arrive with a knowledge base of other military specialties, enhancing the survivability of their team. Prior military experience ensures that the Soldier is aware of the basic rules and protocol of the Army, which in turn eases the burden of being frequently deployed and away from the parent unit. This small change in entry requirements would enhance the abilities of the EOD team and allow it to focus on the inherently dangerous mission ahead.

Another benefit of the proposed entry requirement is the possibility of an increased sense of dedication to the job. Once a Soldier completes EOD training under the proposed standards, he would have approximately 6 years of military service on his record. The likelihood of reenlistment seems higher if the individual already has invested time in the Army. Under the current standards, thousands of dollars are spent to train one Soldier for a mere 3-year commitment. Thus, the new requirement has the potential of retaining Soldiers, reducing turnaround time of new technicians, and saving money for the military by not having to train as many EOD personnel.

Although the current operating tempo creates a greater need for EOD Soldiers, the Army needs to look into the current entry requirements. By mirroring the example the Marine Corps has set by requiring prior service of its EOD technicians, the Army could enhance the mobility of its EOD units. Raising the age and requiring military experience for EOD Soldiers would greatly enhance the knowledge, maturity, and professionalism of the EOD team. This in turn would reduce some of the inherent risks associated with the job and potentially save the lives, limbs, and property of all involved.

The lack of manpower in the field at the present time may make it impossible to implement this change to the EOD recruitment age and service requirements, but it should be considered for future operations after either the current operating tempo has decreased or recruiting efforts have increased manpower in the enlisted ranks.

Captain Emily H. Spencer is the commander of the 55th Ordnance Company (EOD) at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. She holds a B.S. degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.S. degree in applied forensic psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal School, and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.

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