REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (TRADOC News Service, Sept. 29, 2006) -- Improvised Explosive Devices have become the largest threat to servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since the Global War on Terrorism began. From July 2003 through September 2004, there have been 973 deaths attributed to IEDs, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists have been adapting to the threat and the advancement of IEDs by attending the Global Anti-Terrorism Operational Readiness Training Course offered by the Ordnance Munitions and Electronic Maintenance School, EOD Training Department.
The insurgents have made the improvised explosive device one of their main weapons against coalition forces. The purpose of this course is to ensure Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel know the intelligence, tools and procedures, needed when dealing with these devices.

"All the training scenarios are based on lessons learned and incident reports from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Robar, GATOR noncommissioned officer in charge. Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, this was a refresher course for EOD personnel who were deploying overseas or on stateside missions. When the war began, the theater of operation and the threats changed so the course evolved to support the new mission.

"The course has been brought more into line with what the current threat is for servicemembers overseas," Robar said. "If the threat and theater change, the course will adapt to support the change."

Robar would know about the benefit of the training; although he is currently the NCO-in-charge of the course, he has also been a GATOR student. He attended the course before both of his deployments overseas and said the training he received helped prepare him and his Soldiers to handle different situations they faced while deployed.

Almost all EOD servicemembers, including the Army, Air Force, and Marines, active duty, National Guard or Reserve, are required to attend the nine-day course prior to deploying overseas. The hands-on training ensures servicemembers learn to not only dispose of improvised explosive devices but to identify them and to identify what IEDs caused certain explosions, Robar said.

As Staff Sgt. Robert Jackson, 753rd EOD Team, Camp Dawson, W.Va., completed the last week of GATOR training on McKinley Range Sept. 19, he said he felt more confident and ready for his deployment.

"The hands-on training allowed me to think outside the box while also working in the field with my team member (Sgt. Eric Kelley), with whom I will be deploying," Jackson said. "The best part about the training is that the main focus is on IEDs, which is something that we all have to face eventually. The fact that the training is scenario-based helped us see situations other EOD teams overseas have faced and has given us the opportunity to see how we would handle them differently."

The students have more than 20 IED-based scenarios laid out on McKinley Range. They are divided into teams with an instructor and handed missions. Some of the instructors, like Robar, have actually responded to the incidents that are simulated during the course. Currently, all GATOR instructors have been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan and are familiar with the situations their students may face and can make suggestions on how things may be handled differently, Robar said.

Sgt. 1st Class Albert Wass De Czege, 221st EOD Team, National Guard, Fla., is entering the third deployment in his 17 years of military service. This is the first time, however, that he goes through the updated GATOR course as he prepares for his deployment overseas.

"The training has changed tremendously in a positive way from what it used to be," Wass De Czege said. "It's more hands-on as opposed to classroom instruction. It's been a great eye opener because it has given us an idea on what to expect overseas in an outstanding, realistic and challenging manner. It's a great prep course for deployments to any theater of operation."

Ordnance Munitions and Electronic Maintenance School is the only place that offers GATOR training; and the schoolhouse has been host to several EOD teams from other countries including the Netherlands and Norway. All EOD teams train on the various obstacles and scenarios placed throughout McKinley Range.

"(As an instructor) you get a really good feeling when your guys come back from a deployment or when they send you an e-mail saying they experienced something we covered in the training and that it really helped them out," Robar said. "Our goal is that our guys are safe and that they come back in one piece."