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The long hard road; EOD challenges

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Under the heat of the Iraqi sun and the weight of an 80-pound protective bomb suit, it's difficult for a person to perform normal movements let alone attempting to dismantle or investigating unexploded ordnance devices.

The men and women serving within the 28th Civil Engineer Explosive Ordnance Flight encounter similar scenarios regularly during their high number of deployments.

They deal with deployments more frequently since Air Force EOD increased its Army Support involvement for both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Tech. Sgt. David Fitzpatrick, 28 CES EOD operator, has been a member of EOD for more than 12 years and witnessed improvised explosive device attacks firsthand.

While performing route clearance missions for the Army on his last deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, in November 2007, he and two other members of his team encountered an IED while responding to reports of an IED blocking a convoy.

"We were on a 10 to 20 mile stretch of road between two [forward operation bases]," Sergeant Fitzpatrick said. "We had just passed a check point along the route when our truck was hit by a different IED between the driver's door and the first set of rear wheels."

Fortunately, no one in his team was seriously injured from the attack. After investigating the IED, they it had a job to do. The explosion had caused minor damages to the truck and still remained drivable, so they continued to press on with the mission disabling the IED blocking the convoy, Sergeant Fitzpatrick said.

After driving another 16 miles, the team encountered another IED just outside the barrier of their route but were able to clear it before any harm fell upon the convoy.

"I was really angry by this time," Sergeant Fitzpatrick said. It really felt as if [the insurgents] were targeting us that day.

A large majority of these IED incidents Sergeant Fitzpatrick endured would have been more devastating if it weren't for EOD's strict training regimen, which includes IED recognition courses, said Staff. Sgt. Bryan Berky, 28 CES EOD operator.

However, due to their alternating locations and changing shapes, the best way to learn about IED's is to find, dismantle, and study them, Sergeant Berky said.

Not all members of EOD have been as fortunate as Sergeant Fitzpatrick in OEF and OIF during an attack; the AF EOD has experienced eight combat deaths and 35 injuries since 2005.

A lot of terrorists are gunning for EOD operators because they know we're capable of disarming their main weapons [IED's]," Sergeant Berky said.
The AF EOD's participation with the Army has also caused an increase in the number of deployments for EOD operators.

"Most master sergeants in EOD are now required to deploy for six months and then come home for six months before they deploy again for another six months," Sergeant Fitzpatrick said.

"Technical sergeants usually deploy for six months, only staying home for eight to nine months before deploying again and staff sergeants and below will deploy for at least six months and come home for one year," Sergeant Fitzpatrick said.

Despite the dangers coinciding with an increased involvement and a higher ratio of deployments in OIF and OEF, the 28 CES EOD operators enjoy their deployments.

In his six year EOD career, Sergeant Berky has already deployed twice to different locations in Southwest Asia. 

"I love deploying," Sergeant Berky said. "I get back and feel like I contributed because I can immediately see the end result of my work; not everyone can say that about their job."

The recent reduction in violence in Iraq also provides EOD operators another opportunity to view the results of their work, Sergeant Fitzpatrick said.
The incidence level has improved even from when I was there in 2007, he said.

Despite the decrease in violence in Iraq, the deployed EOD operators remain heavily involved in keeping the roads safe for all servicemembers while deployed and responding to unexploded ordnance calls.