FORT A.P. HILL, Va. -- After a rigorous week of competition, one team rose to the top of the U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team of the Year competition at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, July 22-26.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Hamilton and Sgt. Tyler Kinney, 763rd Ordnance Company/21st Ord. Co. (WMD), 79th Ordnance Battalion (EOD), 71st Ordnance Group (EOD), Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, won the weeklong competition. Staff Sgt. Xavier Steinhart and Sgt. Benjamin Livesay, 74th Ord. Co. (EOD), 303rd Ord. Bn., 8th Military Police Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, were awarded second place honors. Staff Sgt. Michael Epshtein and Sgt. Shaun Chesterman, 46th Chemical Co., 22nd Chem. Bn., 48th Chem. Bde., Fort Bliss, Texas, were recognized with third place.
The Army EOD Team of the Year event is designed to improve readiness of EOD professionals. The participating military members are able to hone their skills in a physically and mentally demanding environment as EOD technicians and improve their abilities to respond to situations as required, enabling them to better perform their duties at home and in a deployed environment.
"It was trying (week) and there were a lot of challenges," said Steinhart. "It tested our assertiveness, our decision-making skills and our trust in each other."
The training event encourages knowledge sharing between the teams in attendance, according to Lt. Col. Rusty Ravenhorst, commander, 73rd Ordnance Battalion.
"The sharing of techniques and information provides a platform to solicit invaluable feedback necessary to shape and refine ordnance doctrine and training to enable the readiness for the Army," said Ravenhorst.
The event is designed to test Soldiers' teamwork and critical thinking skills as they apply technical solutions to real world problems. The six teams of two Soldiers were assessed on 14 EOD operations and associated tasks to provide EOD support to large-scale combat operations to eliminate and/or reduce explosive threats. The assessed tasks are centered upon detecting, identifying, conducting on-site evaluation, rendering safe, exploiting and final disposition.
"This the Army's event where we bring the best of the best EOD professionals, at the team level, to show their knowledge and their skills of their 89D profession," said Capt. Ryan Whittle, competition officer in charge, 73rd Ord. Bn.
The military occupational specialty for EOD is 89D and are the Army's tactical and technical explosives experts.
"The teams here get awesome training. We spend all year planning the training. They're getting exposure to other organizations that we have out here working in conjunction with our EOD trainers," Whittle said. "To even get to this event requires a full hierarchy from company to battalion to group that teams have to work through."
He added that the selection process requires a lot of effort. "There's rigor involved at every step of the way. EOD teams have to be able to perform physically in combat as well as their EOD duties. The equipment they utilize is heavy. We have bomb suits. We have MOPP gear. It is a hot and sweaty event for these individuals." Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear is designed to protect the wearer from toxic environments.
The event challenges are divided into lanes where the team must overcome a specific challenge but centered on what EOD Soldiers must do as part of their regular duties.
The actual challenges are designed to be accurate for what EOD Soldiers would expect to see in the field.
"It's as close as we can get," said Staff Sgt. Jason Halls, EOD instructor with the 73rd Ordnance Battalion about the challenge he was grading. "The rigor of being in the MOPP4 for the entirety of it is just like it is going to be." MOPP4 is the highest level of protection to toxic environments.
Halls added that the events have an additive effect over time with multiple events. "After having spent three hours in a chemical suit, that's going to instantly make that next one a little more taxing."
"Our design methodology is based out of our doctrine [which is] the core competencies for EOD," said Whittle. "We have a variety of problems out there. We have UXO [unexploded ordnance]. We have IEDs (improvised explosive devices). We have depleted uranium, large projectiles and other EOD tests."
The week allowed teams to display their respective units' skills as participants respond to tasks in a physically and mentally demanding training environment. The training events are designed to test the participants' knowledge and master of tasks within their respective occupational skill sets.
"It means a lot to me to provide a venue where our community, the leaders and the influencers are able to come here and see what our EOD teams need," said Whittle.
CASCOM Public Affairs contributed to this article.