ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland – The U.S. Army is marking the 80th anniversary of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal profession this year.
The U.S. Army’s first enlisted EOD technicians began training at the Bomb Disposal School on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, in April 1942.
Based in the science, security and technology corridor of northeast Maryland, Aberdeen Proving Ground is the oldest active proving ground in the U.S. Army and the former home to the Ordnance Corps, which moved to Fort Lee, Virginia, in 2008.
Today, Aberdeen Proving Ground is the headquarters post for the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the U.S. Department of Defense’s premier all hazards formation.
The 20th CBRNE Command is home to 75 percent of the Active Duty Army’s EOD technicians and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) specialists, as well as the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, CBRNE Analytical and Remediation Activity, five Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordination Teams and three Nuclear Disablement Teams.
Col. Christopher P. Bartos, the operations officer for 20th CBRNE Command, is the senior EOD officer at the headquarters.
Bartos grew up around the military and graduated from high school at Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. He later graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, and became a U.S. Army infantry officer. After a few years, he decided to become an EOD officer.
“I wanted to explore a different path that would challenge me in a more technical way,” said Bartos. “I was fascinated by the complexity and technology of various types of weapons and other hazards designed for war and conflict. As a young officer, I believed EOD to be a perfect fit of supporting combat operations and protecting our Soldiers.”
Today, Bartos oversees operations for the command that has 3,800 Soldiers and civilians who deploy from 19 bases in 16 states to take on the world’s most dangerous hazards.
Bartos said 20th CBRNE Command EOD units routinely deploy to the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of operations while supporting U.S. Indo-Pacific Command exercises and Defense Support to Civil Authorities missions for U.S. Northern Command.
EOD technicians also respond when unexploded military munitions are discovered, both on and off post. In 2021, 20th CBRNE Command EOD units participated in 1,415 explosive mitigation missions on military installations and 276 missions off base.
In 2021, EOD technicians also conducted 443 Very Important Person Protection Support Activity missions to provide protection to the president, first lady, vice president and foreign heads of states.
EOD Soldiers also support Combatant Command theater security engagement training missions, including humanitarian demining missions.
Over the last eight decades, Army EOD technicians have had a tremendous impact on the safety and security of the U.S. military and the nation it defends, defeating countless explosive threats on battlefields around the world and supporting civil authorities across the nation.
Col. Gregory J. Hirschey, the commander of the Fort Campbell, Kentucky-based 52nd Ordnance Group (EOD), said the Army recognized the need to build a specialized force based on the British Bomb Disposal squads that rendered safe time delayed and anti-removal fuses found on bombs dropped over Europe and Great Britain at the start of World War II.
“As technology quickly advanced and munitions became more complex, the need for EOD technicians grew,” said Hirschey. “During the 1950s, the Army developed nuclear capabilities and fusing systems that required highly skilled technicians that could respond to any type of mishap or accident to prevent partial or full detonations.”
“During the Korean conflict, EOD was called upon to render safe munitions in contested areas as communist and coalition forces advanced and occupied trench lines and defenses throughout the peninsula,” said Hirschey.
U.S. Army EOD technicians then defeated booby-traps and improvised devices developed by communist-backed North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War.
A native of East Helena, Montana, Hirschey is one of two Active Duty U.S. Army EOD Group commanders and he commands all EOD Soldiers stationed east of the Mississippi River.
“At the start of the EOD program, a technician’s tool kit was as simple as a pipe wrench, a brass hammer, a knife and a set of demolition crimpers,” said Hirschey. “The program has expanded over the years to include modern robotics systems, armored vehicles, bomb suits and an array of Render Safe Procedure tools that can be used to confront any imaginable scenario.”
“The most important tool, however, remains the intellect, adaptability and ingenuity of the individual EOD team leader,” said Hirschey.
Col. Michael G. Schoonover is the commander of the 71st Ordnance Group (EOD), the Fort Carson, Colorado-based group that commands all EOD Soldiers west of the Mississippi River.
Schoonover said that EOD technicians enable combat units to close with and destroy the enemy on explosive-covered battlefields.
“Army EOD on the battlefield has historically assisted the supported units with explosive ordnance that hinders the forward movement of forces so the maneuver units are able to meet and defeat enemy forces,” said Schoonover, who began his Army career in 1990 as an enlisted infantry Soldier and was commissioned through the ROTC program at Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, in 1998.
Schoonover highlighted the clearance missions that Army EOD units conducted on all bridges across the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
“The combat forces were not forced to create wet gap crossings and saved valuable time,” said Schoonover, adding the units also cleared stuck rounds on the multitude of combat vehicles and airframes and cleared downed aircraft during the invasion.
EOD Soldiers then took on one of the biggest threats to troops: the improvised explosive device.
Over two decades, Army EOD technicians from the 20th CBRNE Command worked together with U.S. Navy EOD technicians to defeat hundreds of thousands of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Army EOD managed the largest EOD response to IEDs in Department of Defense history, to include the establishing of Task Force Troy and Paladin as the premier response oversight structure for IED response, technical intelligence and exploitation,” said Schoonover. “All of this was possible due to strong EOD company, battalion and group commanders and structures, which allowed EOD to exceed Army expectations regarding expeditionary render safe and explosive ordnance response.”
According to Schoonover, EOD technicians continue to adapt to defeat ever changing threats, adding that EOD operations have changed slightly based on how the adversary fought.
“Our enemies are continually evolving how they fight U.S. forces and this causes our Army EOD technicians to evolve with enemy tactics, so we protect the force,” said Schoonover.
“Currently, not only are we maintaining skills learned over the past 80 years, but we also are working on how to protect the force from modern enemy weapon systems, such as Unmanned Aerial Systems and hypersonic weapons,” said Schoonover.
The 71st EOD Group commander said the joint Naval EOD School prepares EOD technicians for large scale combat operations and Army EOD technicians are prepared for all levels of operations in support of conventional and Special Forces units.
By staying ready to confront and defeat everything from hand grenades to nuclear weapons, EOD technicians have saved lives and enabled operations in every war since World War II. Today, EOD technicians are returning to their roots to prepare for large scale combat operations against near peer competitors.
“EOD units will also be aligned across the battlespace to enable victory for maneuver elements within Division and Corp echelons – just as EOD operations in World War II helped triage explosive ordnance so that combat units can stay focused on destroying the enemy,” said Schoonover. “As always, Army EOD remains prepared to answer the call.”