Take 5 with SFC John Neely

By FORSCOM Public AffairsApril 25, 2024

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

(Series 1, Post 3)

Well, well. Look who’s back for yet another five minutes of fun, fact-filled Shenanigan’s here, on Take 5! I’m Mikie P, and this month’s sacrificial lamb for the blog is Sergeant 1st Class John Neely, a Whiteland, Indiana, native serving with the 20th CBRNE.

I’m glad he was persuaded to tell his story because he actually has one of the coolest jobs in the Army as an EOD Tech! So, buckle up and settle in because you’re about to read the story of a Soldier who far exceeded my own childhood fascination with firecrackers in mailboxes. This guy actually got to legit blow stuff up with the real deal during his entire Army career.

I want to pre-warn readers that this month’s blog may contain some explosive puns because the subject matter is pretty volatile, so don’t let this content rattle you too much. (Yeah. I know; lame, but I bet you still smirked.) Anyway, let me introduce you to Sgt. 1st Class John Neely.

He’s currently serving as the G37 Ammunition and Training NCO for 20th CBRNE Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. What’s a CBRNE you ask? It stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives. Guys like Neely know about the nasty forms of weaponry used in battle, so training to become an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Tech is intense. Even schooling to gain the basic skills needed is nearly a year long.

“The first half of training for me, back in the day, was at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and the second half was at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida,” said Neely. “Redstone is where the weeding out happened.”

Essentially, Neely told me if you couldn’t cut it during the first segment of training at Redstone? BOOM! You’re gone.

He also told me the caliber of cadre who passed on their knowledge to him and other young Soldiers going through EOD school was historic.

“One of my instructors was an EOD tech that dismantled and disarmed IEDs at Ted Kaczynski’s shack in the woods in Lincoln, Montana.”

Whoa! That’s pretty high speed, and if you don’t know who Ted was, he earned the moniker “The Unabomber.” When he was finally arrested back in 1996, Ted was charged with 10 counts of transporting, mailing and using homemade bombs; three of which resulted in the death of innocents.

Regardless of how and what explosives are used for, Neely said they vary in size and blast capability. Some are small, others large and then there’s the Frankenstein creations that Neely said he and a team were a part of creating in the New Mexico desert back in ’07.

“We combined C-4, French guided missiles, SA-2 Russian guided missiles and what is called an ATACMS missile which held small, baseball-sized sub-munitions,” he said. “It was ordnance that was going to be decommissioned so we piled it all up,” he said.

Neely said Interstate 40 near the New Mexico-Texas border was shut down when the shot went off, but people were frantically calling 911 and were literally shaken.

“I wanted to document the blast and did so on my flip-phone from a mile away,” he said. “When it finally detonated the blast was so intense, the percussion of it actually closed my phone while it was recording. It was equivalent to 100-thousand pounds of TNT going off!”

If blowing stuff up isn’t cool enough for you, Neely said some of the best job perks are the people you meet and the travel you do. He’s been on details with fellow EOD techs who’d sweep an area for bombs before a visiting dignitary arrived. He’s even worked closely with the Secret Service at the White House. Neely’s work has twice deployed him to Afghanistan, but he’s also been to Papua New Guinea, Africa, Sweden and Egypt. Even though he was busy during those assignments, Neely says there was also time for fun.

“When I wasn’t doing my job, I got to sightsee,” said Neely. “I saw the pyramids in Egypt and even got to ride a camel.”

Okay, so obviously there are huge bennies to being an EOD Technician, but special pay and perks aside, being an 89D is a very dangerous job. Not only are you in charge of protecting others, but your skills need to be sharp at all times. The EOD motto is, “Initial Success or Total Failure,” which essentially means, always be sure to cut the right wire the first time ‘cause there are no second chances in EOD.

“I love being EOD and being at the 20th CBRNE because the job is always changing,” said Neely. “You’ll never do the same thing twice, and even though there is risk, I look at it as a way to practice my risk assessment skills and will always take that risk when it is acceptable,” he said.

Thank you for your service to FORSCOM, John. For more information about serving the Army as an 89D, please visit a local Army recruiting station. To learn more about U.S. Army Forces Command, check out our FORSCOM LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/company/us-army-forces-command-forscom/.

Join me June 3rd, for another conversation blog with a FORSCOM team member who loves what they do and encourages you to join the family. Till then, take care, Be All You Can Be (at FORSCOM,) and don’t forget to “Take 5.”