Most people know Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) as the Soldiers who help disarm bombs. However, they are occasionally called on to help with tasks that fall outside of their regular military specialty.
Recently, after investigators were unable to find a weapon they believed was used in a violent crime, the Fort Stewart-area Criminal Investigation Division reached out to local EOD Soldiers for help.
“We don’t typically support these types of efforts because it doesn’t involve explosive materials,” said Capt. Jose Matos, commander of the 756th EOD Company stationed at Fort Stewart. However, Matos was eager to help law enforcement and hopefully bring closure to the family affected by the crime.
As part of the Homeland Response Mission, Fort Stewart’s 756th EOD Company supports military installations across Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina by taking on missions that range from handling illegal explosives to assisting local law enforcement.
The weapon in question was a knife, which CID was unable to locate with their own metal detectors. A member of CID knew that EOD would likely have instruments that were strong enough to detect the weapon, so they reached out to Fort Stewart’s EOD Company.
Staff Sgt. David Heald, an EOD specialist assigned to 756th EOD Company, vividly remembers listening to the morning phone call.
“They can probably find this thing!’” Heald remembers the investigators saying. “We said we could give it a shot.”
Six EOD Soldiers were chosen to assist in finding the weapon using military-grade mine detectors. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents previously attempted to locate the weapon with both metal detectors and dogs. After two attempts to sweep a proposed area where they believed
the weapon might be, the FBI agents eventually moved on to other areas.
1st Lt. Ruben Arderi, an EOD officer assigned to 756th EOD Company and one of the six Soldiers that assisted in finding the weapon, told the FBI agents that they would try checking the proposed area one last time. It was fortunate that they did, because the team uncovered the weapon on that final sweep.
“The agents weren’t really expecting to find it at all,” Arderi said. “We just ended up being the ones to find it.”
Heald said CID agents were excited when the EOD team uncovered the weapon and were surprised by the additional capability that EOD brought to the table.
“It built a unique relationship with CID that we didn’t have before,” said 1st Lt. Harold Higdon, an EOD officer with 756th EOD Company. He said that EOD and CID will work closely together to assist and train one another in the future.
“It’s an honor to be asked to help [CID] out and bring closure to the family and the whole situation,” Heald said. “It’s a good feeling for all of us to be part of this and help out.”
Although dealing with explosives is their primary mission set, EOD Soldiers can provide a range of assistance to law enforcement and local governmental agencies.
“We work hand-in-hand with civil authorities,” said Heald. His EOD team recently helped local authorities deal with a WWII-era grenade found on the property of a veteran who passed away. The veteran’s granddaughter came across it while cleaning the house and called the local authorities since she didn’t know if it was safe to handle.
“In turn, the local authorities call us,” Heald said. “We show up and deem it safe or do what we need to do to take care of it.”
Staff Sgt. Steven Neal, an EOD specialist assigned to 756th EOD Company, said that due to rapid deployments, an EOD team leader’s experience is different from a civilian bomb tech that may have been on the job for 20 years.
“Other jobs, you show up and you repeatedly do the same exact thing,” said Neal. “Our jobs [are] totally different from that. The way you run one thing is completely different than the next.”
Although their primary job remains dealing with explosive ordnance, the EOD team on Fort Stewart is ready and prepared to assist in a variety of roles in support of military operations and civilian authorities.