Back from Iraq: An EOD technician discusses training, deploying and coming home

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jason Kreider
  • 421st Combat Training Squadron
I am proud of the work I do at the United States Air Force Expeditionary Center on Fort Dix, N.J., as an instructor. 

My position affords me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with deploying Airmen. I'll share some of that with you, too. 

As an Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technician, I work alongside fellow EOD technicians from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Our deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have us working for, and alongside, Army Soldiers in the counter improvised explosive device, or IED, mission. 

I was fortunate enough to serve on a six-month deployment to Balad Air Base, Iraq, earlier this year. However, my training began well before my departure. As part of my pre-deployment training, I attended the Global Anti-Terrorism Operation Readiness Course at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. This course, known as GATOR, prepares EOD technicians for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The highly trained staff, consisting of active duty Army and civilian contractors, provides updates to theater tactics, techniques, and procedures. The first week of the two-week course, consisted of classroom training. The training we received prepared us for the second week, where we were able to utilize our skills in a training scenario. The scenarios are developed from actual incidents that had been run in theater, and are updated frequently to adjust for the ever evolving TTPs in theater. 

Upon completion of GATOR training, I was able to return home to spend a couple more weeks with my wife. After that I departed for contingency skills training at Fort Lewis, Wash., with other Air Force EOD technicians who are performing in-lieu-of taskings for the Army, and, are required to attend Army training in preparation for deployment. 

We were able to work together as a team, as we were all coming together from different units. These courses were the first time for many of us to meet and develop friendships.
This was vital to the success of our deployment, as you must rely on the person to your left and right to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you. 

Again, I was able to spend a little over a week with my wife after completing CST training. It gave us one last opportunity to say our goodbyes before I departed for Iraq. The day had finally arrived, and I met with a few of my teammates for the long flight over. The remainder of our team would join us a few days later. 

Upon arriving in country, we were met by some old friends and new faces as the outgoing team began preparing to return home after completing their mission. One of the important elements of any successful deployment is the overlapping time with the outgoing unit. We were provided with updated briefings on what the teams there had seen. 

We interacted with the outgoing teams as we conducted a left-seat/right-seat. This afforded us an opportunity to see how the teams had been operating. To find out what worked for them operating out of the Joint Explosive Rapid Response Vehicle, or JERRV. It also allowed us to work out of the vehicle for the first time, as a team, and we developed our own techniques. With our exchange complete, we said goodbye to the outgoing crew, and began charging forward. 

During our time there, we conducted various missions in support of the Global War on Terrorism. One of these missions was route clearance patrols. 

We joined Army combat engineers traveling the supply routes in an attempt to locate IEDs planted on the routes, waiting for an unsuspecting convoy to pass. We would press out in our convoy and travel at a slow rate of speed, scanning the sides of the roads for indicators of possible IEDs. 

During our time in theater, we cleared more than 23,000 kilometers of roadway ensuring the safe passage of convoys throughout our area of responsibility. 

Another mission was the quick reaction force, or QRF. We rapidly responded to IEDs discovered by convoys to mitigate the threat. Unfortunately, not all IEDs were able to be spotted prior to detonation. In the event of damage to vehicles or injury to personnel, we would conduct post blast analysis of the site to capture and collect vital intelligence. This intelligence drew a picture of the events that had taken place and insight to the tactics, techniques, and procedures of insurgent cells in the area. 

Throughout our time in Iraq, we frequently received rocket and mortar attacks. Often the rockets and mortars would fail to function upon impact. This created a hazard for the base populace, and we once again would spring into action. We often responded to the Air Force Theater Hospital to recover grenades attached to the gear of our injured heroes. 

As we traveled throughout our area of responsibility, we often had the opportunity to interact with the locals as they worked to take control of their country. 

Several times we were stopped by a local villager who reported an IED in the area. They simply wanted to protect their families from the danger. We always carried some type of candy to pass out to the local children as we traveled through the local villages. 

As our convoy passed, the local children would come running to the side of the road to wave. Throughout our area, local Iraqi men have volunteered to assist in thwarting and reducing insurgent attacks on locals and U.S. troops. Several checkpoints have been built on the various routes manned by concerned local citizens, Sons of Iraq. 

These checkpoints hamper insurgent movement, forcing them to concentrate their attacks in one small area. This containment allowed us to track their activity and work to locate their hideouts. It often led to their capture by U.S. and Iraqi forces. 

I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the Iraqi army. They are truly working to protect their country. We often conducted raids on suspected insurgent buildings. Many times there were Iraqi Army personnel working alongside us. They sought the same objectives as us, to rid Iraq of the insurgency, restore stability, and allow Iraq to press forward and begin flourishing. 

Not all of our time in Iraq was work. We would often relax during our downtime watching movies or chatting around the fire pit. You would often find us during our downtime playing cards or video games. These moments of relaxation allowed us to wind down from the day's missions. 

In April, tragedy struck our team with the loss of a friend, brother, and teammate. While doing the job he loved so dearly, Tech. Sgt. Anthony Capra was killed while attempting to defuse an IED. His loss was a huge blow to us. 

In true EOD fashion, we banded together as brothers to mourn the loss of our friend and cope with the huge hole left in our hearts. Our mission had to continue, and we pressed forward with a new passion, honoring his memory. 

To sum it up, our team excelled during our six months in Iraq. We conducted more than 900 missions during our time ensuring the safety of the personnel at Balad Air Base.
Thirteen Bronze Stars, 22 Army Commendation Medals, and 15 Army Achievement Medals will be awarded to an amazing group of individuals. These are individuals I will always call friends and brothers.