Humvees arranged in a V shape for protection, with Talon robot out front. (Photo by Michael Fumento)
Commanded by Navy Lt. Cameron Chen, the 8th Engineer Support Battalion EOD comprises ten Marines and five sailors. Like all EOD personnel, they trained at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Marines get seven months of instruction, with sailors an additional two to disable underwater devices.
Our first call came from a patrolling Recon team. EOD gets plenty of false alarms, but this was real. The duty EOD response team grabbed me and we quickly set off in a Humvee.
The enemy favors using artillery shells as IEDS, although anything can conceal a homemade bomb including even animal carcasses. Cars and trucks either used in suicide attacks or left by the side of the road are called vehicle-borne IEDs. (VBIEDs.) In our case, a 130-millimeter shell packed with P4 plastic explosive had been buried just to the side of a major highway. Terrorists favor this location, since its difficult to bury and conceal a bomb in asphalt.
Recon remained to protect us, while we arrived with our own security escort from military police. The IED they come to disarm is usually the least safety worry of EOD teams. Terrorists dont like these guys who remove their little "gifts," and use many means to stop them.
EOD personnel with "bombbot" on left and Talon on right. (Photo by Michael Fumento)
EOD does everything it can to reduce these risks, such as putting two Humvees into a V-shape and trying to stay inside the V as much as possible. (Photo-snapping reporters do wander, but eventually get yelled at. Ahem!)
The days of manually disarming bombs while wearing protective suits are mostly gone, thanks to a nifty tracked robot called the Talon. Directed by laptop computer, these agile fellows are about three feet long and stand about three feet high. They carry an array of cameras to provide good viewing angles, with grippers mounted out front to manipulate IED components.
Why not just blow the bomb up? Because it would destroy forensic evidence that tells EOD what the latest bomb technology is and often leads to the bomb-maker. "Were not just defeating that particular device," says Chen. "We disrupt it, collect evidence, then go after the makers and take them down."
Terrorist posing with his IED. Just not his lucky day. (Photo by Michael Fumento)
Only at that point was the IED destroyed, with me as the special guest given the honor of igniting the fuse. While this was going on Recon captured the triggermen trying to scamper off, young men in jogging suits and tennis shoes. Their exciting adventure to kill and mutilate Americans would end in Abu Ghraib.
Throughout my embed I was impressed with the coolness and professionalism of EOD. A good sense of humor apparently being required for such nerve-wracking work, we had a blast in more ways than one.
What drives such men? "We are motivated to do our best by those who risking their lives daily patrolling the streets and highways and keeping terrorists from bringing their work to the States," says Chen. "We are customer-oriented explosives consultants and nothing makes us happier than keeping everyone safe."
Hang down your head in shame, Steven Bochco.
Read Michael Fumentos additional writing on the military and on Iraq. View his full photoset from 2006 and 2005. Michael Fumento, formerly of the 27th Engineer Battalion (Combat)(Airborne), is the author of numerous books.