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EOD Airmen rely on high-tech, steady nerves

ALI BASE, Iraq -- Airman 1st Class Ian Wise installs an explosive cartridge into the firing attachment of a robot before it investigates a suspicious package found unattended on base.  He is an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group.  (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo)

ALI BASE, Iraq -- Airman 1st Class Ian Wise installs an explosive cartridge into the firing attachment of a robot before it investigates a suspicious package found unattended on base. He is an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo)

ALI BASE, Iraq -- Master Sgt. Thomas Carroll checks with the rest of his team by radio as they prepare to send a robot to investigate a suspicious package found unattended on base.  He is an explosive ordnance disposal team chief with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group.  (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo)

ALI BASE, Iraq -- Master Sgt. Thomas Carroll checks with the rest of his team by radio as they prepare to send a robot to investigate a suspicious package found unattended on base. He is an explosive ordnance disposal team chief with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo)

ALI BASE, Iraq -- Explosive ordnance disposal Airmen with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group monitor the progress of a robot as it slowly moves in to investigate a suspicious package found unattended on base.  (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo)

ALI BASE, Iraq -- Explosive ordnance disposal Airmen with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group monitor the progress of a robot as it slowly moves in to investigate a suspicious package found unattended on base. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Lek Mateo)

ALI BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Soldiers of the 56th Brigade Combat Team encounter explosive situations daily as they travel along Iraq’s highways during convoy escort missions. But things hit closer to home when the Texas Army National Guardsmen found a suspicious package in a trailer near their headquarters recently.

Security forces Airmen with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group and Soldiers of the 56th BCT quickly evacuated everyone and cordoned off the area around the package.

Within minutes, explosive ordnance disposal Airmen arrived along with two of their bomb disposal robots. EOD Airmen are specially trained to deal with a variety of explosive devices. The teams quickly deployed their space-age-looking vehicles to the area where the package was found.

Senior Airman Cameron Champion, a reservist from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., assigned to the 407th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, gingerly maneuvered a robot tethered by a thin fiber optic cable through a maze of concrete barriers and military vehicles in the parking lot to remove the package.

Airman Champion recovered the package and relocated it to a safe area adjacent to an 18-inch thick reinforced concrete blast wall designed to protect people from the blast of an artillery rocket or mortar round.

The Airman used the robot’s mechanical gripper and explosive tools to open the package and reveal the contents inside that turned out to be harmless.

The suspicious package turned out to be nothing but a foreign military field ration that had been left unattended. Despite the ordeal, everyone agreed that acting on the side of caution was the best judgment call.

The team regularly receives suspicious package calls and treats everyone of them as the real thing, said Master Sgt. Thomas Carroll, EOD team chief who is deployed from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.

“We can’t afford to make any second guesses because it may cause someone to lose their life,” Sergeant Carroll said.

The Lewiston, Maine, native emphasized that safety is paramount in their business because they handle dangerous materials such as explosives and ordnances. They use the robots to go into harm’s way in place of a human because humans do not get a second chance if something should go wrong.

Airman 1st Class Ian Wise, an EOD technician deployed from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, took safety to heart while he prepared the explosive cartridge for the robot during the hottest part of the day.

“I don’t let the heat bother me because I’m trying to do my best to stay focused,” Airman Wise said. “I try to concentrate on what I am doing at the moment to make sure I remember all the training I’ve received for the job and don’t miss a step.”

Army Spc. Brian Clay said the incident was a sobering reminder they are in a combat zone and cannot become complacent. It could have been a real bomb.

The specialist was one of the first responders who helped evacuate the area. The North Webster, Ind., native said he has a newfound respect for the EOD team and the dangerous work its Airmen perform. He said he was glad they were able to safely identify and destroy the package -- even though it may have been someone’s meal.

“Any job that deals with explosives is a dangerous job,” Specialist Clay said. “The Air Force EOD team did a good job today, and I really respect them for what they do.”