ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland — U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians save lives and enable operations by confronting and defeating everything from hand grenades to nuclear weapons.
Across the nation and around the world, EOD Soldiers take on the explosives devices that can harm people and hinder operations during combat missions and training exercises.
When a 120mm round got stuck in the barrel of an M1A1 Abrams tank on Fort Irwin, California, Staff Sgt. Caleb S. Canales and Sgt. James L. Phan, EOD technicians from the 759th EOD Company, 3rd EOD Battalion, 71st EOD Group, 20th CBRNE Command, were called to the training range to remove the live round.
Arriving on scene on the 100-plus degree day, the EOD Soldiers attempted non-explosive procedures to extricate the munition. When that didn’t work in the hot and cramped tank, they tried something else — using explosives and water.
“We filled the tank barrel with water to act as a tamper for our C4 blast,” said Canales, who is originally from Corpus Christi, Texas. “By doing this, we were able to direct the blast wave down, so that the tank projectile came out of the breach and not out of the barrel.”
With the 50-pound round safely removed, the tank remains mission ready.
Solving dangerous and complex explosive problems is what Army EOD technicians do every day. Not only do they defeat dangerous devices during operations but they also render safe unexploded ordnance, on and off post, with an average of 130 responses for month.
Every day, Army EOD Soldiers serve with joint, interagency and allied partners around the world. On a regular basis, these elite Army units also conduct missions to protect the president, vice president and their families as well as foreign heads of state and they train allied forces in demolition, minefield clearance and explosive safety.
Canales has been an EOD technician for six years. He has supported 31 EOD missions, including three improvised explosive devices during a deployment to Iraq.
Today, he leverages his experience to defeat explosive devices at the National Training Center, one of the premier combat training facilities in the nation. Soldiers from the Fort Irwin, California-based 759th EOD Company also support civil authorities in 89 counties across California, Nevada and Arizona.
Phan has been on 20 missions during his two years at an EOD technician. He said he always wanted to serve in the military and he chose to be an EOD technician because he wanted to make a difference.
“I know that for every ordnance item I can render safe that I've made that area a little bit safer for the local populace,” said Phan. “I want little kids to be able to play soccer on safe ground, without fear of injury or death. As an EOD tech, I want to bring the safety we enjoy in America to other countries.”
Phan’s advice to anyone who wants to join this elite community is straightforward.
“Keep your head down and stay focused,” said Phan, a four-year Army veteran from Valencia, California. “The course is difficult and you'll likely have setbacks along the way, but perseverance will get you far.”
Army EOD Soldiers are trained at a seven-week preparatory course on Fort Lee, Virginia. This is followed by a 34-week course at the Naval EOD School on Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert L. Palmer Jr. has served as an EOD technician and team leader. He is the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordination Team 4 at the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command. Soldiers and civilians from the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland-headquartered 20th CBRNE Command support joint, interagency and allied operations around the world.
Palmer joined the U.S. Army to be a Medical Laboratory Specialist in 2006 and he later decided to become an EOD technician in 2012 while serving at Grafenwohr Health Clinic. Since then, he has served with the 704th EOD Company on Fort Hood, Texas, and as an EOD team leader for the 720th EOD Company in Baumholder, Germany.
Palmer participated in 38 EOD responses in Germany and 64 missions in the combat zone, including an Improvised Explosive Device strike and ambush where he was injured and earned a Purple Heart in Logar Province, Afghanistan, in September 2013.
The seasoned EOD technician said noncommissioned officer leadership is “where the rubber meets the road” in the EOD community, adding that NCOs are relied on heavily for training standards and real world experience that supports continuous missions during war and peace.
“Being a platoon sergeant was the most rewarding part of my career to this day,” said Palmer, who is from Walterboro, South Carolina. “If you want to become the best version of yourself and grow in ways you’d never imagine, this is the job for you.”
Lt. Col. Fidel Arvelo, the commander of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-based 3rd EOD Battalion, has served as an EOD officer for 19 years. He started as an enlisted EOD technician before becoming a warrant officer and a commissioned officer.
A native of Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Arvelo became an EOD technician in 1990 after serving as a combat engineer because he was drawn to the challenging nature of the career field.
After 35 years in the U.S. Army, Arvelo’s bio reads like a history lesson. In addition to multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Arvelo supported EOD responses in Mogadishu, Somalia, during the 1993 raids that were depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down” and he also helped to rescue a Bedouin from a minefield on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
Calling his battalion command his best experience, Arvello said the EOD profession requires a special kind of Soldier who can accomplish difficult missions with minimum oversight.
“EOD is easily the most rewarding job in the Army,” said Arvello. “Sergeants and staff sergeants are trusted to take their team members anywhere in the world and coordinate with supported organizations for the safety and protection of those they are called to protect.
“Young officers are expected to learn all the technical requirements of disarming and rendering safe explosive hazards as well as lead their platoons and companies to deploy overseas as their own small separated element, supporting [Special Operations Forces] or conventional forces,” said Arvello. “An exceptional opportunity but not for the faint of heart.”
Maj. Gen. Heidi J. Hoyle, the commanding general of the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, said EOD training is rigorous yet rewarding.
“[Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal] is one of the most academically challenging schools,” said Hoyle, a Bay City, Michigan, native who previously commanded the 71st EOD Group, 20th CBRNE Command. “The pride of earning the basic EOD badge is incredible and the comradery that follows is priceless.”
Hoyle served as the 41st U.S. Army Chief of Ordnance and commandant for the Army Ordnance School. She also previously served as the executive officer of the 242nd EOD Battalion in support of Joint Task Force Paladin. The combined task force had the critical mission of locating and defeating Improvised Explosive Devices in Afghanistan.
The commanding general said that strong teamwork and leadership are the keys to success in this high stakes profession.
“In the EOD community, our team leaders carry an incredible amount of responsibility,” said Hoyle. “The ability of a team leader to listen to the members of the team and incorporate their feedback can make the difference of success or failure in a mission.”
Hoyle said that the lessons she learned in the EOD community are enduring and continue to serve her well in her current role as commanding general of the Army component for U.S. Transportation Command. The Scott Air Force Base, Illinois-based Surface Deployment and Distribution Command provides equipment and supplies to troops deployed around the world.
“My EOD experiences have helped me to quantify and manage risk,” said Hoyle. “Risk management is something that I use every day as a senior Army leader and is always included in my decision making.”
Hoyle said the U.S. Army needs more EOD Soldiers to confront and defeat explosive hazards at home and overseas.
“We need mature, physically fit and disciplined Soldiers to enter our ranks,” said Hoyle. “If you think you have what it takes, come out for an interview.”
For more information, go to https://goarmysof.com/eod/eodrecruiting.html. You can also contact the EOD In-service Recruiters on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at (910) 432-1818 or Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, at (253) 966-3902.
Army EOD recruiters will also be available during EOD Hiring Days at the following installations: Fort Carson, Colorado, at the Main Exchange on Aug. 9 -13; Fort Riley, Kansas, at the Main Exchange on Aug. 12; Fort Polk, Louisiana, at the Main Exchange on Aug. 9 - 13; and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, at the Main Exchange on Aug. 23, 2021