Fort Wainwright –The 65th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, known casually as the Far North Bomb Squad, is an Army unit based at Fort Wainwright.
While their daily work and operations primarily support the Army and Department of Defense, they also provide regular assistance to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the northern half of the state.
“In the Fairbanks area, we respond to two to three suspicious items or packages each year. They are not usually real threats, but it has happened in the past,” said Company Commander Capt. Sarah Gold.
In 2017, the unit was requested to respond to reports of a bomb at Fairbanks International Airport. After a thorough search by 65th EOD and other law enforcement agencies, the airport was cleared to resume operations.
The unit recently conducted a week of field training in the Donnelly Training Area about two hours south of Fort Wainwright with the 716th EOD Company, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
During the training, Gold said, “We’re conducting team leader evaluations and team leader candidate training for EOD incidents during simulated large-scale combat operations with some counter-[improvised explosive device] threats.” One scenario was a protective works lane, where EOD techs made sure they could dispose of a piece of ordnance safely while preventing damage to a nearby building.
Additionally, the Soldiers conducted training on containing and neutralizing improvised explosive devices, vehicle-borne IEDs, post-blast analysis under various scenarios, battle damage assessment, multi-ordnance clearance operations, and minefield casualty extraction. They also conducted a planned demolition operation on a range adjacent to the primary training area.
One tool that the Soldiers used during training was the TALON robot. The unmanned, tracked robotic device can be fitted with a variety of implements, cameras, and sensors to perform an array of different tasks.
“We use robotics to keep a safe distance. Anything we can do remotely we try to do remotely for safety reasons,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jessica Mumford, a platoon sergeant for the 716th.
The bulk of the training was conducted in a portion of the training area known as the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility that is set up like an urban community. The CACTF is situated in a large, heavily wooded training area with simulated houses, office buildings, an embassy, church, and other structures. From the air, the set-up could pass for any other small town around the world, though from the ground, it is clear that the concrete structures are not inhabitable, containing no plumbing, electrical power, or insulation.
Another asset the Soldiers used to facilitate their training was the Raven small unmanned aircraft system.
“It’s used for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition purposes,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Baumgartner, master SUAS trainer for 1st Brigade, 11th Airborne Division. He explained that the Raven SUAS provided an aerial view of the entire CACTF for the EOD unit. Once in the air, the Raven “…will be on standby if any of the teams require it or request oversight.”
Approximately 50 soldiers participated in the training exercise all together, including some from the 25th Brigade Support Battalion, as well as personnel from the 716th and 65th EOD Companies. Additionally, personnel from the 303rd Ordnance Battalion out of Hawaii, the company’s higher headquarters, participated to provide operations expertise and intelligence context for the scenario.