MCCONNEL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
It’s remarkable what a difference a year of technical training can make. After 169 days of intense physical training and mental exhaustion, the U.S. Air Force transforms everyday men and women into Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians.
McConnell currently has 14 EOD technicians assigned to the base that play a vital role in maintaining the safety of Airmen as well as civilians in the surrounding communities.
EOD Airmen are highly trained to detect, disarm, detonate and dispose of explosives that pose a threat to individuals all over the world.
Threats EOD faces can vary from explosive ordnances, such as hand grenades, to weapons of mass destruction. McConnell’s EOD flight provides rapid response capabilities on and off the installation in nine core mission areas, which range from nuclear weapons response to working alongside the United States Secret Service to provide important persons protective support.
“There’s people that follow checklists and there’s those that can think outside the box,” said Master Sgt. Christin Merriweather, 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight superintendent. “[EOD] takes someone who is innovative and can make a decision and stand by it.”
When an explosive threat is reported, protecting the local community’s welfare is an effort carried out in conjunction with the Kansas Highway Patrol and local city bombs squadrons.
“It really brings us all together so that we can operate better,” said Merriweather.
In 2019 alone, the EOD Flight responded to a total seven off-base calls and recovered over 250 ordnances and munitions in a response area ranging from southern Kansas to northern Oklahoma.
“Our job is taxing,” said Merriweather. “We do every sort of mission you can imagine.”
Part of that mission requires conducting operations in a nearly 85-pound bomb suit, all while maintaining balance, ergonomic flexibility and endurance. Tier 2, a new set of gender neutral career-specific fitness standards, is designed to not only push Airmen to their limits but emulate the physical demands EOD technicians regularly face in the field. Some of the exercises incorporated into the new standards include a 20-pound medicine ball toss, 100-yard farmer’s carry, as well as a 5-repetition trap bar deadlift of the Airman’s maximum capable weight.
While the physical demands are high, the extent of knowledge an EOD technician must retain is a task far more challenging. A new technician is not only required to complete an extensive set of career development courses but simultaneously perform hands-on equipment training and receive a hazardous materials operations certification. Each Airmen in the EOD flight is also required to complete a minimum of 16 hours of training each week to maintain mission readiness.
“Everyone thinks it's the physical part, but you can get stronger and you can get faster,” said Airman 1st Class Brightly Pell, 22nd CES EOD technician. “I think for me it’s retaining all of the information.”
In a career where a mistake can mean the difference between life and death, an Airman must maintain the ability to recall their training and work well in a team, even in the most high stress situations.
Ultimately, as an EOD technician, being able to trust the Airmen next to you is crucial.
“We have to trust the other person implicitly,” said Merriweather. “When we say we trust people with our life, most people just say that, but we literally mean it.”