ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland – U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal noncommissioned officers have defeated dangerous explosive devices and molded EOD teams since the Army EOD profession began more than 80 years ago at the Bomb Disposal School on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
The U.S. Army began training the first enlisted Bomb Disposal Soldiers, the predecessors to today’s EOD technicians, in April 1942 following the establishment of the British Bomb Squad to defeat time-delayed bombs dropped during World War II.
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is the former home to the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, which moved to Fort Lee, Virginia, in 2008. Today, it is the home base 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 U.S. Army's EOD technicians and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear 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.
Soldiers and civilians from 20th CBRNE Command deploy from 19 bases in 16 states to confront and defeat the world’s most dangerous hazards and threats in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.
Army EOD noncommissioned officers ensure EOD technicians are ready to safeguard U.S. forces and enable military operations around the world.
According to 1st Sgt. Roger D. Rich, the senior enlisted leader of the 18th Ordnance Company (EOD), Explosive Ordnance Disposal Soldiers have to be ready to respond at any minute to a wide variety of missions, from Immediate Response Force deployments to supporting the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s efforts to locate prisoner of war and missing in action service members from past conflicts in explosive-ridden areas.
“What makes the U.S. Army EOD technician special is our ability to develop creative solutions to complex problems and accomplish the mission regardless of the situation,” said Rich, a Madison, North Carolina, native and Master EOD technician who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. “Although the EOD community often finds itself confronted with a multitude of obstacles, in garrison and while deployed, we are able to band together and help one another achieve success.”
“The 18th Ordnance Company (EOD) is unique because of the culture that we have,” said Rich. “Every Soldier has a voice and their opinion matters. Everyone is involved in every aspect of what the company does.”
A former combat engineer, Rich saw firsthand the importance of strong NCO leadership to keep Soldiers ready for the crucible of combat. He decided to become an Army EOD technician after serving on route clearance missions.
The 18th EOD Company recently returned home to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after serving as the sole Explosive Ordnance Disposal company in Iraq for six months in support of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Levant.
The company completed hundreds of missions in Iraq focused on partner force development while also supporting Special Operations Forces and defeating a wide variety of different explosives. They also confronted enemy fixed wing and rotary wing Unmanned Aerial Systems designed to target U.S. and coalition forces during the deployment.
The 18th EOD Company “Voodoo” is part of the 192nd EOD Battalion, 52nd EOD Group and 20th CBRNE Command.
EOD forces have rendered safe over 100,000 improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006 and they have also trained thousands of host nation forces.
Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin O. Brinkmeyer served at Forward Operating Base Danger in Iraq from 2004 – 2005. A former National Guardsmen who went on Active Duty in 2001, Brinkmeyer had served as an infantry Soldier and construction equipment repairer. He was ready to leave the Army during his Iraq deployment before a 55mm rocket nosed in right next to his front door. His platoon sergeant asked him to get EOD technicians to take care of it.
“I didn’t even know who they were. When I knocked on the front door, their first sergeant answered it,” said Brinkmeyer, a native of Hubbard, Iowa. “He was hard on me and made me question everything I thought that video games and movies had taught me. He made me fill sand bags and knock on every door and clear the area. After he destroyed the rocket, he asked me if I wanted to do the job.”
The EOD first sergeant invited Brinkmeyer to stop by the following day. He walked Brinkmeyer through their quarters and introduced him to their mission.
“I don’t think I was what he was looking for or maybe he was just planting a seed,” said Brinkmeyer. “He told me I couldn’t do (on the job EOD training) and that I probably wasn’t smart enough to do it anyway. I left there confused and angry.”
Later during the deployment, when his reenlistment window opened, Brinkmeyer knew exactly what he wanted.
Today, 17 years later, Brinkmeyer is a Master EOD Technician and the senior enlisted leader for the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 192nd Ordnance Disposal Battalion (EOD) “Renegades.”
The 192nd EOD Battalion commands seven high demand Army EOD companies, including the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 28th EOD Company that supports Special Forces missions and the 18th, 722nd and 767th EOD companies that deploy for airborne Immediate Response Force missions, as well as the Fort Belvoir, Virginia-based 55th EOD Company that supports domestic response missions and the Fort Drum, New York-based 754th and 760th EOD companies that support military operations and civil authorities.
He credits his success to many retired Army EOD NCOs who helped him develop into the leader and technician he is today, including 1st Sgt. Mike Cassin, Master Sgt. Garrick Hipskin, Sgt. 1st Class Brad Borgelt, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Palmer and Sgt. 1st Class Tony Gant.
Brinkmeyer recalls his first response to an improvised explosive device and working through defeating it with his team leader, Sgt. 1st Class Josh Kurk.
“At that moment I realized, you either gave them enough or you didn’t,” said Brinkmeyer. “For me that moment was prolific and is something I still think about regularly.”
Brinkmeyer said EOD technicians have to think critically to solve complex and dangerous problems when defeating explosive devices.
“EOD technicians aren’t special … not any more than any other Soldier serving in uniform. But what does separate them is their ability to critically think and apply a cognitive thought process to tackle complex problems for a wide array of issues,” said Brinkmeyer.
“Soldiers who volunteer for EOD don’t do it for the glory, the title or the bragging rights. They do it to protect others and keep people safe,” said Brinkmeyer. “There isn’t a technician currently serving or from the past that doesn’t have a lingering nightmare or afterthought of, ‘if I don’t know everything or do things correctly, the death of others will be from a decision I made.’ That alone drives them to become aggressive and question everything.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Dave Silva became an Army EOD technician after serving as a cannon crewmember on Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
He said he was drawn to the uniqueness of the mission.
“Once I spent some time with the unit, it became clear this is who I want to work beside,” said Silva. “They were incredibly intelligent when it came to ordnance and explosives and still maintained a very relaxed and fun environment that anyone would want to be a part of.”
Today, Silva is the command sergeant major for the 71st Ordnance Group (EOD), the group that commands all EOD Soldiers west of the Mississippi River. The Fort Carson, Colorado-based EOD group commands three EOD battalions and 18 EOD companies on 11 military installations.
Silva said NCO leadership is critical to the success of EOD operations around the world.
“A tremendous amount of trust must be earned to be an NCO in this career field,” said Silva. “In EOD, the team leader is a staff sergeant. The team leader is the hub in which the entirety of the EOD community revolves around and supports. These NCOs are empowered to make critical decisions, while their team operates autonomously, in very austere environments. The EOD center of gravity is the team, led by the team leader.”
Silva said it is not unusual for a staff sergeant and a specialist to operate in a foreign country, advising a partner nation, without any additional supervision.
The Master EOD technician said every EOD technician on a team determines how to tackle different explosives.
“On an EOD team, every voice has equal value,” said Silva, who has deployed seven times and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. “A team member who graduated yesterday will question a Master Badge team leader with years of experience and that is welcomed. Our teams have one chance to get it right, there are no redos when it comes to unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices.”
With the EOD motto of "initial success or total failure," Silva said the trust and camaraderie in Army EOD teams extends to joint, interagency and allied EOD teams.
Silva said the EOD community has given him the opportunity to defeat explosive hazards, travel the world and protect the nation’s senior most leaders.
“Twenty-five years of EOD later, I'm having as much fun as I've ever had and feel even more strongly that this is the family in which I belong,” said Silva, a native of Long Beach, California. “I've seen all 50 states, five of seven continents, the absolute best and worst of dozens of countries, spent Christmas at the White House, protected the Pope as well as presidents, and fast roped onto the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf.
“I've had so many incredible experiences but the highlight of my career isn't the experiences, it’s the relationships, it's the people, it’s the EOD family that I'll take with me long after the experiences end,” said Silva.