Ellsworth’s explosive Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Audra M. Hornbacher
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Explosions usually bring on thoughts of action movies portraying actors walking away from a billowing cloud of fire and smoke, in slow motion with shrapnel flying behind them, as while thunderous music plays in the background.

Real-life explosive experts, however, such as the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, have actual daily exposure to life-endangering explosives, and are highly professional in handling those situations.

As reported by Air Combat Command's Unit-level Incident Summary, the 28th CES EOD team has responded to 14 calls in 2012 related to possible unexploded ordnance items on and around the base.

"On base, we roughly had three UXO calls," Master Sgt. David Fitzpatrick, 28th CES EOD flight chief, said of the items ranging from a displayed rocket warhead to dud ground-burst simulators. "We also sent teams out three different times to the C-130 crash site."

Aside from supporting Ellsworth's mission, the 28th CES EOD shop also lends a hand to calls that come in from the local community, as well as the Badlands bombing range and local reservations.

"We cover a 200 mile radius around Ellsworth," said Senior Airman Danee Hicks, 28th CES EOD technician. "We respond to the Native American Reservations as well as west to Sioux Falls, S.D. Our primary responsibility, though, is anything on base - whether it's for an unexploded ordnance item or a suspect package."

Depending on the type of call, two or more of the shop's 14 team members and one of the flight leaders can be enlisted to investigate the explosive.

When these Airmen venture out to investigate the potentially dangerous device, they bring with them an array of highly technological tools and safety equipment.

One of the most important pieces of safety equipment the shop uses is a bomb suit. Hicks explained that the newest bomb suit the shop has attained is the EOD 9, which can withstand 10 pounds of explosives within 10 feet of the individual wearing it. It also has armor plating and Kevlar in the front, which can make the suit weigh between 70 and 85 pounds.

"We also have destructor tools, which would give us access inside an item," Hicks said of the other gadgets they use. "We have an X-ray machine to X-ray different items so that we can be safer. We also use robots a lot for improvised explosive devices."

Hicks also explained that one of the robots the shop uses is the HD-1 Air Force Medium Size Robot. The HD-1 AFMSR is a newer robot, weighing approximately 200 pounds that sits two-and-one half feet tall when not extended - however it can rise up to four-and-one half feet when the arm is fully extended.

"Neither of the robots we have are used downrange," Hicks said of the robots assigned to Ellsworth. "They are so big. Downrange, we would use a pack-bot, or a Talon robot. You can actually carry those on your back."

Robots are a resource the 28th CES EOD shop can't afford to lose. Robots allow Airmen to explore the state of an explosive device at a safe distance. This is a key advantage when dealing with an explosive that has been exposed to constantly changing elements that can potentially make it more dangerous.

Fitzpatrick explained that explosives are a chemical compound - certain things are needed to set it off. The main causes are heat, shock and friction. He continued to explain that the chemical compound is always in a state of flux, usually making the explosive more sensitive over time.

"With that aspect in mind, what is going to be the condition of the explosive when we find it?" Fitzpatrick asked in reference to the World-War-II-era UXOs they most often deal with. "Usually, it's not in the pristine condition of being in bomb storage like we have here. It's either been dropped, fired or attempted to be used and we have to deal with the explosive at its worst condition."

Whether the 28th CES EOD technicians have been called out to dispose of an unexploded ordnance found in the Badlands bombing range, are investigating a suspicious package found on base or even sweeping an area prior to a distinguished visitor's arrival -Ellsworth counts on our EOD Airmen to keep everyone safe around the clock.

"I love my job," said Hicks. "I'd rather it be me who knows how to do my job, rather than someone who has no clue and then they get hurt because we weren't there. Let me take care of it so that other people don't get hurt."