Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) is a military occupational specialty (MOS) held by all branches of service except the Coast Guard. EOD technicians from all services are trained at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD) at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. After EOD technicians graduate from NAVSCOLEOD and join operational units within their specific services, their experiences begin to differ because each service has its own unique EOD mission. This article focuses on the Army's EOD mission, specifically its stateside mission.
Army EOD is best known for locating, identifying, evaluating, rendering safe, recovering, and determining the final disposition of all explosive items, including chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear ordnance, improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance, and previously unknown ordnance. But Army EOD also has the stateside responsibilities of response, Department of State support under the Very Important Persons Protection Support Activity (VIPPSA), international subject-matter expert exchanges, and humanitarian missions, such as demining instruction and supervision.
Army EOD units maintain response teams that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to respond to bomb threats or explosive hazards in designated response areas. A company's designated response area can encompass thousands of square miles, and it can take response teams many hours to reach the site of an incident. This is primarily because of the Army's restructuring of EOD unit locations to include them in the overall Army modular organization plan and colocate them with units they will support during their deployed missions.
Army EOD units were previously scattered across the country in a variety of unusual locations specifically to be able to perform their stateside mission. Now they are located in a comparatively small number of locations. The modular organization and concept of support is not proving to be functional for the Army's stateside mission or its deployed mission. It detracts from the Army's stateside mission by causing severely delayed response times for stateside incidents.
Modularity also detracts from both missions because mission command of EOD (a highly specialized field) and its unique resources are removed from EOD leaders and placed in the hands of non-EOD leaders who have a limited understanding of EOD methods, capabilities, and joint, interagency, and international roles.
|Explosive ordnance disposal response team Soldiers conduct robot training at their company headquarters.
Stateside EOD Mission
When responding to a continental United States incident, an EOD team has 30 minutes during duty hours and 60 minutes during off-duty hours to be ready to travel to the site of the incident. Teams rotate on response, usually on a weekly basis. Companies typically assign one response team and one backup team per week. Team leaders keep a response cell phone with them at all times, and the team must remain in the local area.
The response truck is a Government-owned vehicle, such as a Chevrolet Suburban, with specific capabilities. The truck contains the tools and equipment that a team anticipates it might need when responding to an incident. The duty uniform for the response team is the Army combat uniform.
EOD teams respond to stateside incidents because, in addition to being subject-matter experts in the rendering safe and disposal of improvised explosive devices, military EOD technicians are the only bomb technicians authorized to render safe and dispose of military ordnance. This is primarily why NAVSCOLEOD consists of 143 training days, while the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Hazardous Devices School (HDS), the training program attended by civilian bomb technicians, is only 35 training days.
HDS is conducted at the Army's installation at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and it is jointly taught by civilian bomb technicians and military EOD technicians. NAVSCOLEOD and HDS are the only recognized certification programs for bomb technicians in the United States.
Questions have been raised about the legality of a military unit responding within the United States to a civilian incident because of the Posse Comitatus Act, which limits the participation of the military in domestic law enforcement. However, EOD's performance of its stateside missions is legal because the rendering safe of a hazardous item is a public safety issue that is not related to the enforcement of laws. EOD technicians are not pursuing bomb makers, nor are they armed or participating in any law enforcement activities while performing stateside duties.
A well-known example of stateside EOD response is the Unabomber bombings, which occurred from 25 May 1978 to 24 April 1995. The Unabomber was Ted Kaczynski, and most of his devices were functioned by victims receiving or finding the items. However, some of the items were identified as potential explosive devices before they could explode and authorities responded and disposed of them.
In 1981, an Army EOD team responded to a device found in Milton Bennion Hall at the University of Utah. Army EOD support was also requested by the FBI when Kaczynski's cabin in Montana was located. The responding EOD team rendered safe and cleared the cabin, which was booby-trapped and contained numerous devices.
Another important part of EOD's stateside mission is VIPPSA support. VIPPSA support is EOD support provided in coordination with the U.S. Secret Service. VIPPSA support can be provided for the President of the United States, the Vice President, cabinet members, foreign dignitaries, and others as directed by the Department of State.
The need for EOD support provided to the Secret Service has grown in recent years because of increasing force protection threats around the world. Recent Presidential decision directives have designated certain major events (the Olympics, World Trade Organization meetings, the Super Bowl, and others) as National Special Security Events and directed EOD teams to support them.
When engaged in a VIPPSA mission, EOD technicians are supposed to blend in with other personnel at the event. They wear civilian clothing and are under the operational control of Department of State security personnel and the Secret Service. They are responsible for searching for hazardous devices in areas or vehicles that will be occupied by the very important persons.
During these missions, EOD technicians do not travel with their EOD response truck; they bring a limited selection of tools used primarily to execute searching techniques. If an item is found, the EOD team will usually notify local bomb squad personnel or the closest EOD response team and work with them to render the item safe. VIPPSA missions can last anywhere from a day to more than a month and can take place anywhere in the world.
EOD technicians also engage in numerous subject-matter expert exchanges throughout the year to enhance dialog with partner nations' EOD forces in support of U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Pacific Command theater security cooperation program objectives. Further support is also provided to the Department of Defense and Department of State through humanitarian demining operations. These missions promote U.S. foreign policy interests by training host-nation deminers and providing landmine awareness training in accordance with United Nations standards.
Because its stateside mission is as active and crucial as its deployed mission, EOD has unique mission requirements. Recent changes in location, organization, and command structure caused by the Army's modular force restructuring have hampered the Army EOD community's ability to efficiently accomplish its mission. Leaders within the sustainment community need to understand EOD's stateside mission because, as long as EOD continues to fall under the Ordnance Corps, those leaders will eventually be in positions to contribute to decisions that can either hinder or enable EOD mission accomplishment.