EOD competes for 'team of year'
June 21, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- In the dust and heat at Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, six teams of Soldiers donned body armor, helmets and bomb suits June 11-15 for a competition to represent Western Army posts at the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team of the Year competition in August.
"The competition was close," said Capt. Austin Beaty, assistant operations officer, 242nd EOD Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group (EOD). "Only 20 points separated the top three teams. For the most part, all of the teams were on the same level."
For five days, three-person EOD teams from Fort Carson; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; and Fort Hood, Texas; participated in land navigation, weapons qualification, physical training tests, road marches and eight EOD-specific training lanes -- including removing a bomb fuse from unexploded ordnance and disposing of an improvised explosive device on a dismounted patrol.
"When people think EOD, they think IED, IED, IED, but that's a small part of what we do," said Capt. Clay Kirkpatrick, commander, 663rd Ord., 242nd EOD.
Soldiers faced scenarios EOD units experience while deployed as well as at homestation, including inspecting a postal box with suspected explosive material, disposing of ordnance filled with a toxic chemical and identifying unfamiliar ordnance. Soldiers also had to recover the body of a missing Soldier while navigating a house littered with explosive ordnance and free a hostage with a "collar bomb" around his neck.
"It's been pretty intense so far," said Staff Sgt. Justin Walker, 761st EOD Company from Fort Sill.
"We've had limited sleep and constant physical activity. (The competition) is a good thing. It will point out areas we might be weak in."
Senior noncommissioned officers from numerous posts served as evaluators for the competition.
"(The competition) is a tradition in our field, and it's a good tradition," said Sgt. 1st Class Cesar Soto, 734th Ord., Fort Bliss, Texas. "When you come up here, you come to prove yourself. It's a pride thing. You can say, 'At least I had the guts to try for the team of the year.'"
The Armywide competition began in 1987, but was suspended in 2001 due to operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. A small-scale competition was held in 2011, but this year marked the first time in more than 10 years that Fort Carson teams competed for a chance at the title.
"We've evolved quite a bit," said Sgt. Maj. Derryl Valk, incoming senior enlisted leader of the 242nd EOD, who participated in the original competition in 1987. "A lot of our training philosophy was preparing for U.S.-Soviet conflict. Now, with current ops we're able to pull from more recent scenarios."
Despite the 10-year gap in competitions, Valk said that the original purpose remained the same.
"The original reason (for the contest) was to foster esprit de corps and showcase training and to create bragging rights for the future," said Valk, who attended the competition to see his future Soldiers in action. "I don't think it's too different today. It's good for morale. It's good for teams to learn about themselves and each other."
Three teams from Fort Carson competed, but Staff Sgt. Christopher Thompson, Staff Sgt. Josue Sandoval and Sgt. Matthew Bagley, from 1st Platoon, 663rd Ord., 242nd EOD, 71st EOD, came out victorious.
"It feels great to win," said Thompson, team leader. "I had a great team. It was a cumulative effort."
Kirkpatrick said he was ecstatic with his Soldiers' performance.
"Their training, individual abilities and team determination reflected greatly during the competition," he said. "They were victorious over the best teams throughout the 71st Ordnance Group, including teams that are tasked with supporting Special Operations Forces."
To prepare for the competition in August, Kirkpatrick said his Soldiers will hone their EOD and warrior skills through intense training.