Staff Sgt. Kasey Araya (right) assist 1st Lt. Rhys Jacobson put on his protective equipment to inspect a potential threat.
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(Photo Credit: Chuck Cannon)
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The Talon, a remote control robot used to investigate potential hazards.
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1st Lt. Rhys Jacobson operates the Talon to uncover an improvised explosive device.
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FORT POLK, La. – It takes a special breed of Soldier to walk toward danger when everyone else is moving away. To look at something you know could kill you if it detonated, yet still move in to defuse it, even if you’d never seen anything quite like it before.

To make steady, precise movements, often in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees while wearing 90 pounds of protective gear that may — or may not — stop the shrapnel the improvised explosive device you’re attempting to disarm will fling in your direction, is difficult at best.

Yet, that is exactly what Explosive Ordnance Disposal Soldiers — EOD — do on a regular basis.

To keep sharp and up-to-date on the latest information available to these unsung heroes requires training, often with explosives that can themselves cause harm if not handled correctly.

At the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, the EOD mission falls to the Soldiers of the 705th Explosive Ordnance Company (EOD). During the week of July 26, the unit’s Soldiers trained at the EOD Range on the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, developing team leaders. Staff Sgt. Kasey Araya is a veteran EOD team leader who provided training for some of the younger Soldiers.

“We will work on situation-dependent scenarios, tool workup and deployment,” said Araya, who was raised on a farm near Clarksville, Tennessee. “This takes care of some of our annual training, and helps up-and-coming team leaders working toward certification.”

Taking part in the training was 1st Lt. Rhys Jacobson, who put in a morning’s work conducting a security sweep at EOD Range 14 in the JRTC training area with a CEIA metal detector, looking for wires that might be used to detonate a suspected improvised explosive device. He then donned an EOD8 bomb suit to get a first-hand look at the IED. Afterwards, he moved safely away from the device, took cover behind a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Tactical Vehicle and used a Talon robotic device to uncover the IED.

Jacobson, who hails from Milford, Massachusetts, said he enjoys his job.

“Our mission is to take care of any kind of explosive hazard, like unexploded ordnance, or God forbid, a suspect package, in the immediate area of the JRTC and Fort Polk,” Jacobson said. “If a 155mm round doesn’t go off during artillery training, we’ll go out and take care of it. As well as respond if any military ordnance is found outside the installation, from a cannonball to a mortar in someone’s backyard. Our area includes all of Louisiana and Mississippi, and parts of Arkansas and Alabama. It’s a pretty large area.”

Jacobson said that at the JRTC and Fort there is plenty of hands-on work for officers.

“I get to go out on calls and pursue becoming a team leader.” He said. “It’s interesting to me and I enjoy doing it.”

With the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, Jacobson said combat deployments are slowing down, but the 705th stays busy.

“Part of our company is in Africa training partner nations,” he said. “Other miscellaneous missions include training assistance and VIP protection missions.”

EOD was born when unexploded ordnance would show up in cities after massive bombings during the world wars, Jacobson said.

“EOD Soldiers would go out and disarm or detonate those bombs,” he said. “Lately, it’s been more directed at IEDs, but we’re starting to move back to larger ordnance. If we ever go to war against a near-peer enemy we would be more likely to see larger, nation-crafted ordnance.”

While not wanting to appear nonchalant about his job, Araya laughed when asked about checking hotel rooms for visiting dignitaries.

“We tell non-EOD personnel that we just plop on the bed and if it doesn’t blow up, it’s all good,” he said, a knowing smile on his face. “It’s a running joke, but kind of the truth. We go in with limited equipment, and have certain search techniques, but the main purpose is for something to happen to us instead of the president or a senator.”

While Araya said he knows the job is dangerous, he said he does not necessarily reflect much on the danger aspect.

“We get so much training and I get comfortable with what I’m doing and the trust I have in the other members of the team,” he said. “They give me that sanity check, to make sure I’m not doing something dangerous or extreme. And a lot of it is trusting our equipment, whether it is bomb suits or robots.

“I’m confident in my abilities. My wife hates it. It stresses her out.”

Jacobson agreed.

“One misconception is the danger involved — it’s actually very safe work,” he said. “There’s obviously the hazard of working around explosives, but we go through a year-long schooling process before we even get into this MOS that basically teaches you general safety around explosives, things that might set off some explosives but not others.”

The initial reaction most people have is, “It’s super scary and dangerous, and I would never do that,” Jacobson said. “But we operate safely, so while it can be hazardous, we handle it in a way that mitigates possible loss of life.”

While Jacobson has yet to deploy, Araya said he has deployed down range three times.

“My wife knows I love my job and never asks me not to do it,” he said. “The wives of other EOD Soldiers come together and take care of each other.”

Movies such as “The Hurt Locker” have shown the spotlight on EOD Soldiers, but Araya said much of what is shown on the big screen is Hollywood.

“It’s very exaggerated,” he said. “There are things in there (the movie) we do, but not so much sniper battles. EOD techs love/hate that movie.”

One part of the movie that is true to life shows the EOD Soldiers wearing their bomb suits, Araya said.

“Anytime we make a manual approach to an IED, we wear the bomb suit,” he said. “ It can be difficult getting in the suit; you can be in great shape, but throw on the suit and it’s difficult.”

Jacobson agreed with Araya that actually training in the suit is as important as being in good physical shape.

“You need to put it (bomb suit) on and do your training so you’re psychologically accustomed to being in it and know what to expect,” Jacobson said. “The heat can ramp up, and some people might get a little freaked out, so it’s important to get time in the bomb suit and carry the equipment so you know what it’s like.”

Araya said he has been an EOD Soldier for about 10 years. He said the most difficult deployment was his most recent.

“We had instances when we were supporting 7th Special Forces Group where we had a few shots and explosions that were a little too close, but we couldn’t help it because of the situation and terrain,” he said. “We took all the necessary safety precautions to make sure no one got hurt, but there were some pretty loud explosions and we probably should have been back a little further, we just didn’t have the means.”

The 705th Explosive Ordnance Company averages about three or four calls a week, sometimes multiple calls in the same day, Jacobson said.

“We’re quite busy at Fort Polk,” he said.

The EOD field is short of Soldiers and the 705th EOD will host a hiring day on Aug. 25. Jacobson said most Soldiers can transfer from their MOS to the EOD field.

“There are financial incentives and great schools available, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida,” he said. “That’s not a bad place to go for a year of school.”

To find out more about becoming an EOD Soldier contact Jacobson at rhys.e.jacobson.mil@mail.mil < Caution-mailto:rhys.e.jacobson.mil@mail.mil > .