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EOD Airmen Take On Warfighter Challenge
by U.S. Air Force Samuel King
August 15, 2019

Boom!

A three-person explosive ordnance disposal team approached a bomb-laden vehicle with two hostages inside. As they reach the car, a hidden device explodes damaging the leg of one of their own. What does the team do next?

May 9, 2019 - U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. AJ Massa, 6th Civil Engineer Squadron, examines a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device during the Warfighter Challenge at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. The Eglin-based exercise provides Airmen the chance to experience EOD problem-solving scenarios and network with others in the career field to help improve the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)
May 9, 2019 - U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. AJ Massa, 6th Civil Engineer Squadron, examines a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device during the Warfighter Challenge at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. The Eglin-based exercise provides Airmen the chance to experience EOD problem-solving scenarios and network with others in the career field to help improve the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)

This was just one of many difficult scenarios EOD Airmen encountered during this year’s EOD Warfighter Challenge here.

The two-week, situation-based challenge, now in its third year, was created by the 96th Civil Engineer Group’s EOD flight Airmen. The Airmen provided the unique opportunity for Air Force EOD units, outside of pre-deployment training, to train and learn from each other. The training preceded then followed in two rotations, the annual EOD Memorial ceremony at the Naval EOD School on May 4, 2019.

More than 100 Airmen from over 30 Air Force EOD units attended during the two weeks. The unit interest and success of the Challenge continues to grow each year.

“These Airmen want this type of training,” said Staff. Sgt. Michael Bodner, EOD Warfighter Challenge coordinator with the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron. “We’ve had to expand our manpower and incorporated Eglin’s ranges to meet the demand.”

The event’s goal was to hone the Airmen’s EOD and problem-solving skills with new environments, setups, gear and situations they may never see while training at their home station. Eglin’s range area, formally used to train deploying security forces Airmen, was the site of the urban and village environments of the scenarios.

May 9, 2019 - Staff Sgt. David Corley, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron, uses a metal detector to scan the area during a patrol at the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Warfighter Challenge at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)
May 9, 2019 - Staff Sgt. David Corley, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron, uses a metal detector to scan the area during a patrol at the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Warfighter Challenge at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)

“The more realistic and challenging we can make the situations, the more the Airmen will take away from it and remember when it is real,” said Bodner.

Along with upgraded scenarios and locations, the Warfighter Challenge incorporated some new technologies into the exercises. Teams field-tested a new metal detector used during their area sweeps and patrols.

The technicians were also introduced to the Android Tactical Assault Kit. The GPS and communication device allowed teams to plot areas of interest on a map to pass along to other units in the field via cellular network. The device can also take and instantly transfer images of IEDs or suspicious locations to other teams or security units that may need the information.

May 9, 2019 - Explosive ordnance disposal technicians use the Android Tactical Assault Kit communication device during a patrol at the Warfighter Challenge at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)
May 9, 2019 - Explosive ordnance disposal technicians use the Android Tactical Assault Kit communication device during a patrol at the Warfighter Challenge at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)

The ATAK system is already incorporated into 96th Test Wing missions. Security Forces have the device in their patrol vehicles. Eglin’s on-call EOD technicians used the communication technology on many occasions to include suspect improvised explosive device and unexploded ordnance responses.

The EOD teams encountered at least three scenarios per day. The coordinators rotated the teams through the events so they faced a new type of challenge each time.

The mental and physical puzzles of the scenario training were only part of the Warfighter Challenge. The networking effects of one of the largest gatherings of EOD Airmen at once had rippling effects through the career field.

May 9, 2019 - Staff Sgt. Austin Kotch, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron, cuts a wire on an improvised explosive device at the Warfighter Challenge at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)
May 9, 2019 - Staff Sgt. Austin Kotch, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron, cuts a wire on an improvised explosive device at the Warfighter Challenge at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King)

Attendees passed along various personal and unit-related lessons learned, equipment benefits and countless ways of session improvement. That newly-gained, know-how was taken back, passed along and implemented.

“This is larger for us than just these exercises. There’s so much more being accomplished,” said Capt. Cory McCart, Eglin’s EOD flight commander. “We are helping to improve the Airmen who attend and by extension their units, the career field and our support to the Air Force mission as a whole.”

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