JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, –
Soldiers and Airmen from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Explosive Ordnance Disposal units conducted an exercise March 22 through 25 in partnership with EOD personnel with the Anchorage Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“The overall scenario was an extremist group attempting to gain access to the base and have a sustained bombing campaign within the cantonment area,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshuah Edmonds of U.S. Army Alaska's 716th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company. “We linked it in to the recent anti-extremism training and kept that flavor.”
The 23 personnel involved conducted 36 “incidents” and culminated with a large-scale hostage scenario.
“The goal was to increase the interoperability of agencies,” Edmonds said. “We were trying to figure out any hiccups with the equipment, different lingo, and different [tactics, techniques and procedures], so if something ever actually happened, we're not figuring it out on the fly.”
The deep snow still on the ground proved to be a bigger obstacle than any of the inter-agency aspects, however.
“It makes following the usual TTPs harder,” Edmonds said, “Walking in three-foot-deep snow in a 85-pound bomb suit is one of the hardest things a person can do. But all the teams were adapted to it by the end of the first day.”
While they had a hiccup or two at first, Edmonds said, “by the last day with the large-scale incident, we had APD, FBI, Army and Air Force teams with a plan of how to properly execute. I was really impressed by how cohesive the group got in just a few short days.”
“It's a nice partnership, to be able to learn different techniques from military and civilian law-enforcement perspectives,” said Sgt. Gregory Witte, an APD detective sergeant and the department's bomb squad commander. “We're keeping everybody safe and doing the best we can. It was a very good collaborative learning effort.
“This [kind of training] is mutually beneficial for both the military and public safety,” Witte continued. “We've collaborated in the past, and we enjoy the partnership. We enjoy coming up with challenges and training scenarios for each other, so it was a really good experience.”
The Air Force cohort participating – a three-person EOD team plus two Military Working Dogs and their handlers – were led by Air Force Master Sgt. Benjamin Baloga of the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron EOD unit.
“During the four-day exercise the teams were responding to three or four suspicious packages, which were either nothing or were explosive devices,” Baloga said. “They were in a variety of locations around base. The finale was a culmination, with everyone working to solve one problem.
“Some bad guys took people hostage,” Baloga explained of the final exercise. “They had booby-trapped buildings and placed devices on doors to prevent entrance, and the hostages had explosive vests on. A hostage rescue team breached facility and took down the bad guys. As they noticed the explosive hazards, they called the EOD teams, who came and took care of the vests and other hazards.”
“The most impressive thing in the week was Army Staff Sgt. Ryan McMurray,” Edmonds said. “He had every gremlin and everything that could go wrong going wrong. But he had a great attitude, never got super frustrated, and never started making questionable decisions.
One of the best things I saw in the week was him showing his team how to show composure and not unravel because things not going as expected.”
“Being on a bomb squad is a blast, pun intended,” said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Hair, also of the 716th EOD Company. “Training new technicians and validating the Soldiers who have doing this a while is great. We've been involved with operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan for as long as I've been in the Army, and now with that dying down, we're pivoting to a more homeland-security focus. Threats are evolving and we're training to meet a hopefully never fully capable force here. We're developing training [standard operating procedures], and everyone's working together in what is essentially a well-oiled machine.”
Hair said the 716th has been building a relationship with APD and FBI for quite a while. The restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 outbreak have made that more challenging, but the training was a good way to keep the link strong.
“Getting face time with the leadership and agents has been great,” Hair said, “and they got to have overlap with military ordnance personnel.”
The junior personnel participating seemed to enjoy the opportunity to use their skills, Hair said.
“It was crawl-walk-run style, not separate lanes,” he explained. “The situations all played into each other. Day one there was some stuff happening; we got the guys out, got the gear going, and discovered the shortcomings. As the week progressed, the pace picked up, and the problems became more sophisticated.”
By the end, having the agencies working together validated the intent behind the exercise, Edmonds said.
“It was one of the best EOD trainings I've seen in my 11 years as an EOD tech,” he said.
Some photos are available at https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6577127/air-force-eod-technicians-train-jber