MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Indiana--Two New York Soldiers will represent the Army National Guard's explosive ordnance disposal community at the Army's 2017 EOD Team of the Year Competition at Fort A. P. Hill, Virginia.
Staff Sgt. Evan Putman and Spec. Michael Wing, members of the 1108th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), were selected based on their performance during the EOD team competition held by the 52nd Ordnance Group and the 111th Ordnance Group at Indiana's Muscatatuck Urban Training Center August 5 to 12.
The 52nd group is the headquarters for all active Army EOD units east of the Mississippi, while the 111th Ordnance Group is the higher headquarters for all Guard EOD units.
EOD Soldiers are called on in combat zones when an improvised explosive munition needs to be disposed of. Here in the United States they respond to potential terrorist threats or dispose of the old World War II hand grenade, which somebody found in an attic.
Putman and Wing's outstanding performance is "a very big deal" according to Command Sgt. Major Kevin Conklin, the top non-commissioned officer for the New York Army National Guard's 501st Ordnance Battalion (EOD). The 501st is the higher headquarters of the 1108th.
"What it really shows is despite our limited time and resources, we have Soldiers who are keeping pace with the active component," Conklin said. "Neither one of these guys have ever been on active duty. They are purely Guard trained," he added.
They use high-tech robots, and old-fashioned stoop labor - "we pile a lot of sandbags," Putman said-to deal with explosive situations.
Putman, a Charlton, N.Y. resident, and Wing, from Albany, N.Y. competed against another two-man Army National Guard EOD team for the honor of representing the Guard at the Fort A.P. Hill competition. Two Active Army EOD teams were also facing off for their chance to go to the competition at the same time.
He and Wing started preparing for the competition during the 1108th's Annual Training period in June, Putman said. Then Wing took time off from his job, as a code inspector-Putman is an Active Guard and Reserve Soldier-and they squeezed in more preparation time.
Putman has been an EOD Soldier and a New York Army National Guardsman since 2009. When he's not acting as an EOD team leader he's the supply sergeant for the 1108th EOD.
Wing enlisted in the 1108th two years ago, but just finished up with training in April this year. Neither Soldier has deployed to combat. Putman said he joined the Army National Guard to be an EOD Soldier because: "I just really wanted to help people."
"Back in 2009 it seemed the most helpful thing I could do," he added. "It fits my personality pretty well," he added. "I was that kid who took his dad's drill apart and put it back together again. It is challenging." Wing said he joined EOD because of the challenge.
"It is because it has that specialist quality to it. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you busy. It is a unique skill set," Wing said.
The desire to challenge himself, and learn more, prompted him to volunteer for the Team of the Year competition, Wing said. "I volunteered for it because I am so new and it is tough to get experience," Wing said.
The Muscatatuck competition challenged the EOD teams with a wide variety of explosive disposal problems. The events also tested physical fitness and stamina.
The event started on Tuesday, August 8 at 9:00 a.m. and finished up on Thursday, August 10 at 10 a.m.
There was some time built in for sleeping, but sleep deprivation was part of the exercise, Putman said.
"You know you are not going to die, so they have to implement the stress somehow," he explained. "The intent is to make you physically and mentally exhausted."
The first event was a soldier readiness test; a combat fitness test designed around tasks EOD Soldiers face. Many involved sandbags, Putman said.
That makes sense because EOD Soldiers do a lot of work building protective barriers with sandbags, he explained.
At one station, Putman and Wing had to shield a block of C-4-representing an unexploded munition-with sandbags and then detonate the C-4. The kicker was that there was a sheet of plate glass 12 feet away from the explosion that had to survive the blast.
This event measured a team's ability to implement a protective work during explosive disposal operations to prevent blast and fragmentation damage.
Their plate glass survived, Putman said.
At another station they conducted a post-blast analysis of a burned out van to determine what explosive destroyed it, and if the area was safe.
The competitors were tested on their ability to identify ordnance and use specific EOD tools. They operated and conducted trouble shooting on EOD robots.
The judges evaluated the Soldiers on their ability to identify and handle homemade explosives properly, as well as dealing with a depleted uranium munition and identifying radiation sources.
Putman and Wing had to employ X-ray devices effectively and deal with landmines and improvised explosive devices.
At the same time they were also tested on basic Soldier skills; land navigation, weapons use, troop leading procedures, tactical movement and land navigation.
One of the toughest events was a nine-mile "ruck march" Putman and Wing said.
"We just got done with the ruck march and Wing's feet were really messed up and we had to go run another IED problem and we were there until four in the morning," Putman recalled.
The lack of sleep was tough, Wing said. It was "a little challenging" to think clearly when he was tired.
"I did not know all the equipment 100 percent, and it took me time to learn things," Wing said.
Active duty EOD Soldiers have an advantage because they work with each other every day while he and Putman only work together once a month, Wing said.
He's confident that he and Putman will do well during the September competition, Wing said.
"I look forward to working with Sergeant Putman. We are going to do the best we can without stressing too much," Wing said.