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Every second counts for EOD techs

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (AFPN) - The 12-inch doors clunk shut as the explosive ordnance disposal team climbs into their armored Humvee. If it was not for the cool breeze from the air conditioner, the Airmen would be puddles of sweat dripping through the floorboard.

Since the side windows are barely a foot tall, 2-feet wide and nearly 2-inches thick, the occupants are surrounded by shadows. Squeaks and rattles abound as the mammoth 6-ton vehicle bumbles down the potted road.

For this team, it is just another day at the office. A day filled with handling high explosives and high-caliber weapons.

"EOD's general mission is weapons support and force protection," said Tech. Sgt. David Ashcraft, a 40th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Flight EOD technician. "Nearly everyone I meet doesn't fully understand our mission and how our cog fits into the overall Air Force machine.

"Our reign of responsibility extends from firecrackers to nuclear weapons," he said. "Anything that detonates, we have to understand and be prepared to defuse, disrupt or demolish."

That is when the training kicks in.

"Our job is one of the few where we aren't paid for what we do, we are paid
for what we are trained to do -- and we pray every day that we won't have to use it," said Senior Airman Sunshine Polk, another EOD technician with the 40th ECEF.

In this dangerous world of cat and mouse, EOD technicians must have practical, real-world experience handling high explosives and various other munitions, which seasons and allows the Airmen to work in inhospitable areas -- such as a few feet from unexploded ordnance.

"Two and half pounds of C-4 explosive is about the max we can train with here," Airman Polk said. "The largest I have ever dealt with was about a 10,000-pound shot."

Every precaution is taken to ensure the safety of everyone in the training area. When the C-4 putty’s out, EOD technicians put their game faces on, and the seriousness of the situation comes to light.

"This is a tiny explosion," Sergeant Ashcraft said. "From (328 yards) it'll only ruffle your hair."

Other than training, detonations are also handy for "securing" classified material.

"We had to dispose of a few classified hard drives, so we strapped some C-4 to them and had at it," Sergeant Ashcraft said.

Along with qualifying on various degrees of detonations, EOD technicians must also be fully qualified on a .50-caliber rifle.

"We use the weapon to disrupt or destroy unexploded ordnance from a safe distance," Sergeant Ashcraft said. "With an effective range of 2,000 yards, and a maximum range of 4.2 miles, familiarity and skill are a necessity (for) safety when handling this weapon."

Each detonation and round fired equals one more degree of training and preparation -- one more memory for the team to fall back on when life or death depends on it.

"The enemy tries many tactics to kill or injure our Airmen," Sergeant Ashcraft said. "Roadside bombs, booby traps and rocket-propelled grenades are just a few. They watch how we do business and use that knowledge to try and gain an advantage over us.

"It's our job to stop them, to keep our tactics and maneuvers fresh, and to protect the forces protecting freedom," he said. "That's why this training is absolutely critical."

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