Face of Defense: Soldier Leads Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team
By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq, Oct. 24, 2008 Looking like an astronaut in a green space suit, the soldier carried on his shoulder a contraption that might have been a moon rock pulverizer, for all anyone knew.
Army 1st Lt. Ryan Fisher, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 760th EOD Company, carries a device used for pinpoint destruction of bomb components during his final test to receive his EOD team leader certification on Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq, Oct. 14, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A fellow soldier stood by to supervise. He told a group of people watching to give the man in the suit some room.
“You may want to stand back,” he said to the small crowd. “That thing’s actually loaded, and it can blow.”
That “thing” was a percussion-actuated neutralizer, a tool used to disarm explosive devices by destroying components that allow bombs to explode. The suit was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal 9 bomb suit, which weighs around 50 pounds. The man inside the suit was Army 1st Lt. Ryan Fisher, and this was his final test to earn his certification as an EOD team leader.
This test, which included searching a suspect vehicle and disarming the explosive threat, was one of about 40 tests Fisher had to pass to prove he’s fit to lead.
“It’s relieving and satisfying at the same time,” Fisher said of completing his certification after two months of testing. “It’s nice to know I’ll be moving into a position where I’ll have a greater opportunity to employ the EOD skills that I’ve been practicing the last six months.”
Six months is how long it took Fisher, a Pittsburgh native, to prepare for all the testing. The biggest challenge, he said, was that he’s not in a training environment; he’s in Iraq, completing real missions that affect lives of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and citizens.
Fisher is deployed as an EOD technician with the 760th EOD Company here, which operates in the regions of North Babil, just south of Baghdad.
When patrolling soldiers come across improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, EOD soldiers are the people they call, and the company sends a three-person team to either destroy or disable the explosive threat. The logo above the EOD company’s entrance boasts, “They make ’em, we break ’em.”
With his certification, Fisher now will be able to go out on those missions and supervise the team.
“That’s probably the best part about it,” Fisher said of the certification. “It’s satisfying to know that I’ll be moving into a position that’s more hands-on … and going on more EOD missions.”
The training and the testing for this position took so long and covered so much ground because of everything team leaders must handle once they arrive at the threat site, Fisher said. Team leaders manage more than just their two teammates; they also must take charge of soldiers already on the scene and ensure they cordon the area and keep watch for secondary threats.
With lives at risk, the EOD team leader is personally responsible for the safety of everyone in the area, so disposing of the device properly is vital. Each task requires attention to detail and a thorough knowledge of all EOD skills, from disposing of ammunition to employing a remote-controlled robot.
Typically, soldiers of the rank of sergeant and staff sergeant become team leaders after spending time as EOD team members. As a lieutenant, Fisher didn’t have the benefit of that exposure, so he said he relied heavily on the help of senior noncommissioned officers in his company to help him get up to speed.
“I think the certification process, for me, really gave me a lot of faith and taught me to really rely on the knowledge and experience of my senior NCOs,” Fisher said. “A lot of these guys have been working in the EOD field for six, eight, 10 years, and they’ve basically taken me and imparted all their knowledge and all their experience into the training process.”
Fisher has been in the EOD field for 11 months, and has spent most of that time serving in Iraq. He said the deployment has given him a chance to truly appreciate the training, because here is where it really counts.
“It was actually a great jump-start to my EOD experience, and I think the learning curve has been a lot steeper as a result,” he said. “But I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s really provided me an opportunity to learn a lot faster than I would have, maybe, back in the States.”
Fisher now has seven months left in his deployment to put his new certification to work.
“We’re responding to actually serve the local populace here to ensure any explosive hazards that they discover are handled in a safe fashion,” he said. “So it’s very satisfying being able to help these people and basically eliminate these dangerous devices. … That’s our responsibility.”
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves with the 3rd Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)