FORT CARSON, Colo. – The U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team from the Fort Bliss, Texas-based 734th Ordnance Company (EOD) “Luchadores” won first place in the all-Army EOD Team of the Year Competition, April 19.
Staff Sgt. Lesley S. Sparks and Staff Sgt. Walter J. Russell from the 734th EOD Company took top honors during the intense four-day competition on Fort Carson, Colorado, April 16 - 19.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Perkins and Sgt. Tyler Orvik from the 303rd EOD Battalion from U.S. Army Pacific earned second place in the competition and Staff Sgt. Rockford Vickery and Sgt. Jared Hart from the 52nd EOD Group came in third place.
Representing their EOD units at the competition was Sgt. 1st Class Robert Contini and Sgt. Michael Wing from the 1108th EOD Company from the New York National Guard and Sgt. Timothy King and Sgt. Nathanial Evans from 702nd EOD Company in U.S. Army Europe-Africa.
Brig. Gen. Daryl O. Hood, the commanding general of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, and Command Sgt. Maj. Dave Silva, the senior enlisted leader from the 20th CBRNE Command, attended the award ceremony with Col. Michael G. Schoonover and Command Sgt. Maj. Randall C. Markgraf from the 71st EOD Group.
Called the “Crayon Crew,” the winning EOD team earned Meritorious Service Medals and championship belts, among many other awards.
The five Army EOD teams took on a wide variety of challenging scenarios during the competition, from responding to chemical ordnance and an Unmanned Aerial System to rendering safe a lodged projectile and multiple explosives at an ammunition supply point.
Russell said one of the biggest challenges was overcoming the fatigue during the competition.
“The nature of the scenarios was physically and mentally demanding,” said Russell, a native of Newnan, Georgia, and former U.S. Marine Corps field radio operator. “Taking the time to justify our thought processes was vital to our success as a team.”
Sparks, who also served in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the U.S. Army, said the EOD team had to overcome old “training scars” to counter new scenarios.
“Maintaining scene command while rectifying the hazard under a time constraint was challenging,” said Sparks, a native of Westminster, Colorado.
Sparks and Russell said senior noncommissioned officers from the 734th EOD Company helped them to prepare for the EOD Team of the Year competition by setting training lanes to evaluate critical EOD tasks and proficiencies.
Russell said learning new things and honing their lifesaving and mission-enabling skills is critical to success as an EOD technician.
“I became an EOD technician because there is no limit to the knowledge that you can gain,” said Russell. “As soon as you think you know everything, that is what will get you killed.”
The team will take the lessons learned from the competition and share them with the rest of the EOD technicians in the company, said Sparks.
“We are very blessed that 734th EOD Company is a very tight-knit community,” said Sparks. “These problems we ran at this year’s Team of the Year Competition offer new insights on challenges on today’s battlefield.”
As explosives experts who support overseas military operations and domestic authorities at home, the “Luchadores” deployed to the U.S. Army Europe Africa area of responsibility in 2020 and served in Iraq in 2018.
When assigned to support domestic explosive mitigation missions, the 734th EOD Company responds to military munitions found in Arizona, New Mexico, nine counties in West Texas and four international ports of entry.
The 734th Ordnance Company (EOD) is assigned to the 3rd EOD Battalion, 71st EOD Group and 20th CBRNE Command. The all-Army EOD Team of the Year competition was hosted by the 71st EOD Group and 20th CBRNE Command.
Headquartered on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the multifunctional and deployable 20th CBRNE Command is home to 75 percent of active-duty U.S. Army 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.
As part of the U.S. military’s premier all hazards command, Soldiers and U.S. Army civilians from 20th CBRNE Command deploy from 19 bases in 16 states to take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.
U.S. Army EOD forces have rendered safe more than 100,000 Improvised Explosive Devices (EOD) in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006 and have trained thousands of host nation forces.
Competition Observer-Controller 1st Sgt. Mathew D. Teel said the competition gave the EOD teams the chance to identify explosives and dispose of them in the safest way possible.
A native of Phoenix, Teel is the first sergeant for the Fort Carson, Colorado-based 749th Ordnance Company (EOD).
Teel said the training lanes were designed to challenge the teams, adding that some of the scenarios were platoon-level responses.
“It tests the team’s limits and lets them get creative and make outside-the-box solutions to large-scale EOD incidents,” said Teel. “This also helps to set up the noncommissioned officers involved for conducting tasks as a platoon sergeant.”
A Master EOD technician, Teel was motivated to join the U.S. Army after 9/11 and he has deployed four times, twice to Iraq, once to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait.
The EOD first sergeant knows from firsthand battlefield experience the importance of being flexible and creative when defeating dangerous explosives. His most memorable EOD response was his first IED in Iraq.
“We dropped our robot which was a generation 1 Talon and right off the bat it wasn’t working,” said Teel. “We ended up trying just about every tactic, technique and procedure (TTP) to eliminate the explosive threat. It took us approximately two hours to clear the IED. This led us to refine our TTPs to become more efficient on IED responses.”
Teel said tough and realistic training helps EOD techs to stay ready for anything they might face while confronting and defeating explosives designed to harm troops and hinder operations.
“It takes one small thing to get someone injured,” said Teel. “Making that mistake here isn’t great but it’s better here in training rather than out on the battlefield. They’ll remember these mistakes and they’ll be better for it.”