After years of running tabletop exercises, Capt. Rafael Polo, commander, 55th Ordnance, Explosive Ordnance Disposal decided it was time to light the fuse on an exercise involving several units on Fort Belvoir.
With assistance from Capt. Tevin Radford, commander, 212th Military Police Detachment and Staff Sgt. David Wooldridge, 55th Ordnance EOD, they devised a scenario involving a random vehicle check, a sketchy driver and a possible explosive device, which would call on the expertise of Fort Belvoir’s EOD to mitigate the risk.
For many, it was their interest in the technical, not the adrenaline rush of diffusing an explosive, that attracted them to EOD.
“I was originally an infantryman. I noticed that EOD wasn’t getting blown up all the time, like infantry,” said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Sadler, Operations NCO in charge for the 55th. “We always relied on EOD to help us, and they were subject matter experts, and it was obvious that they knew what they were talking about and I wanted to learn what they do.”
Sadler found the training very intense, and most of it classified, so he said you can’t take anything home to study.
“You have to pick it up very quickly – it’s a fire hose of information,” Sadler said.
Few jobs in the Army require the attention to detail and safety involved in ordnance disposal. Polo said Belvoir’s 55th Ordnance is the only unit of its kind in the continental U.S., which means they are not deployable. Its primary mission is protection of the president of the United States, the vice president, and dignitaries within the National Capital Region. They will even provide a few teams to protect the inauguration ceremonies Jan. 20.
“Our focus is the National Capital Region and of course, we also respond regionally to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware,” said Polo, adding that his course was decided the moment his recruiter showed him a video.
“He showed me a video on explosives, robots and bomb suits, and I have not looked back,” said Polo. “With EOD, there is so much stuff to learn – new ordinance being fabricated by us, NATO nations or adversaries. Learning about fuses and warheads, it’s always changing.”
Sadler said that EOD is one of the few Army career fields where everything is put in place to support the team leader.
“Everybody is there to support the team leader, because they are the individual that executes. The team leader assumes the risk, and their life is in his/her hands. When the team leader gets in the suit, it’s the last option, because that’s the highest risk operation,” Sadler said.
In 2000, the shift from warfare by nation-states to small terrorist groups led to a change in threats.
“The war on terror began to highlight improvised explosive devices, and that’s a constant threat, because our enemies are always coming up with more creative ways to hurt us,” Polo said. “Tools are tools, but it’s really the team leader that makes everything safe. You have to have the right people behind the robots to know what to do. You have to know what to look for; the most important part of any response is the team leader. The equipment can only take you so far.”
Both Polo and Sadler said they cannot imagine doing anything else in the Army, and said that EOD is something available to interested recruits across the services.
“There’s EOD in the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy. I was interested in explosives and how ordinance works; very technical stuff. ” said Polo.
Sadler said there are numerous specialized units, offering a wide array of opportunities and “you’re not stuck in one job,” adding, with a chuckle, “if you join, you get a free gym membership.”