A mall book-shop owner notices a man with an open paperback that seems to have wires sticking out of it. The next time he looks, the man is gone, and the book is closed and alone on the table. Thinking someone might have disguised a top-ten best seller as a bomb, the book shop owner calls the bomb squad.
This was one of several training scenarios U.S. and Korean Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians navigated during a recent exercise at Gimpo Airport.
If this actually happened, the EOD responders might have been forced to use "hand entry" to diffuse the bomb. Hand entry, preparing the next generation of EOD decision makers, and domestic terrorism were the main themes of a two-day combined training exercise. The event, which ended May 17, trained elements of 8th United States Army's 718th EOD and Korean EOD experts from the Incheon Korean Police Swat Team, the International Incheon, Gimpo, and Jeju airports, and the Korean Coastguard.
In general "hand entry" is what Hollywood depicts when the hero has to decide which wire to cut, but things are different in the real world.
"Hand entry is a last resort, but we need to be ready for anything. ... Hoping something doesn't occur is not a plan of action. You must train for every eventuality," said 8th Army EOD Sergeant Major, Sgt. Maj. John D. Terrell.
The training focused on scenarios that could occur in domestic terrorism situations; anywhere people work or relax with an emphasis on Korean suburban or urban life. In this arena, improvised explosive devices are not buried under desert highways. The scenarios concentrated on IEDs found in a book in the mall, an ammo can in an office building, in a box outside of a police station and buried in a school playground, said Staff Sgt. Andrew Livingston, 718th EOD Training noncommissioned officer in charge.
Each EOD team created a scenario and built a bomb that another EOD team had to diffuse. If the bomb detonated during the exercise, it buzzed. Informal competition between the teams in realistic, difficult scenarios and expertise in hand entry was an additional motivational factor in the training, Livingston said.
"Even though it's training, the competition to defeat the devices is pretty intense," Terrell said.
While they "compete" during training, the understanding is that in an actual event one or more of the teams might be called to assist one another, Livingston said.
No one heard buzzing that sunny Thursday, despite the fact that the oldest and most experienced "team leader" in the U.S. unit was 23 and had three years active duty under his belt. That's because the 718th EOD used the bi-annual training to put some senior specialists in the hot seat as "team leaders."
"We are also using this to prepare our next generation of team leaders. So during this training we have the team leaders or senior team members swap places with their assistants. The assistants need to make the decisions. In today's environment, that specialist could be called upon to be a team leader much more quickly than in the past. ... Hope is not a plan," Livingston said.