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NEWS | Sept. 7, 2023

Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians help to bring fallen American heroes home

By Walter T. Ham IV

Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians not only safeguard U.S. troops from explosive hazards around the world but they also help to return America’s fallen heroes home to their families.

Joint service EOD technicians serve as an integral part of the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and support investigation and recovery missions around the world.

The DPAA EOD section includes Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps EOD techs who deploy as a part of highly specialized teams to austere locations.

Due to the frequency of the missions, the DPAA EOD section is occasionally supported by other EOD organizations, including the U.S. Army’s 303rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD) “Phoenix.”

U.S. Army Maj. Zachary D. Abood, the executive officer of the Schofield Barracks, Hawaii-based 303rd EOD Battalion, said that the battalion has recently supported DPAA missions in Laos.

As the EOD unit that confronts and defeats explosives in the U.S. Army Pacific area of operations, the Phoenix Battalion supports Operation Pathways missions, regional security cooperation engagements, emergency response missions and Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center training exercises.

The EOD battalion also helps to protect the nation’s senior leaders and foreign heads of state in support of the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of State.

Abood said the EOD techs always welcome the opportunity to participate in DPAA missions.

“The DPAA mission is special because it allows EOD team leaders to support an important and cherished mission for the DoD,” said Abood, a native of Lansing, Michigan, and graduate of Central Michigan University who has served in the U.S. Army for 13 years and deployed to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Djibouti.

During DPAA missions, EOD technicians locate and identify hazards and advise mission leaders on the best course of action to address the hazards.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan J. Smith, the operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the 303rd EOD Battalion, recently participated in a DPAA mission to Laos.

Smith said discovering unexploded ordnance at a site can temporarily shut down operations, adding that acidic soil can often deteriorate ordnance and evidence at a site.

“As the EOD technician, you must make an accurate assessment and provide it to the site commander,” said Ryan, a native of San Diego and graduate of Grand Canyon University who has deployed to Afghanistan.

EOD technicians from the DPAA EOD section are part of the Expeditionary Support Section based on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Most EOD techs in the section spend half of the year away on missions around the world.

The Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency conducted a combined 86 investigation and recovery missions in 37 countries during Fiscal Year 2022.

DPAA conducts investigation and recovery missions for fallen heroes from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War in the Indo-Pacific and European theaters.

The Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency was established in January 2015 when the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command merged with the Defense Prisoner of War-Missing Personnel Office and parts of the U.S. Air Force’s Life Sciences Lab.

DPAA Research and Investigative Teams take on the agency’s number one priority, which are last known alive cases.

The agency also leverages Investigative Teams and Recovery Teams. Along with EOD techs, the teams include forensic anthropologists, life support technicians, medics, linguists, anthropologists, team sergeants and team leaders.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Joshua C. Kinchen from the DPAA EOD section recently returned to Hawaii from a mission in Papua New Guinea, his first mission as a member of the agency. He previously served on a short-term individual DPAA mission to Laos a few years ago.

During the Laos mission, Kinchen discovered thousands of submunitions and bomb fragmentation in the area.

“This can make it quite challenging while clearing an area to ensure it is safe to excavate. The heat, high humidity and very little wind made it challenging during the day. Everyone had to drink several liters of water each day to stay hydrated,” said Kinchen.

“At night, it was still plenty hot but sleeping in a hammock with a bug net helped make it bearable for the 45 days we were out there,” said Kinchen. “Our sleeping quarters were constructed with a bamboo and tarp roof with an elevated wooded floor to keep us out of the mud and open walls to allow some airflow.”

Kinchen said most missions have an EOD tech on the team, adding the sites vary in size based on the type of mission as well, including aircraft crash sites that can span several hundred square meters.

From dense jungles to steep mountains, DPAA team often spend several days in remote areas with limited support.

“Some missions you may have to hike in several kilometers to reach the site each day. Others are so remote everyone and all the equipment has to be transported in by helicopter,” said Kinchen. “On a mountain site, you are using ropes and a harness to work on steep grades that will limit the amount of Earth you can move safely.”

A native of Albany, Louisiana, Kinchen has deployed to Iraq twice and Afghanistan three times during his 24 years in the U.S. Army.

Kinchen said he is proud to work for an agency with such a noble mission.

“Finding an aircraft that an American hasn't seen in over 80 years is a very humbling experience. Knowing that I am part of a team that will help someone back home get some closure is an extremely rewarding feeling,” said Kinchen.

“Everyone on the team works for one common goal while we are out there. Everyone works hard and gives it their all. I am honored to be it the position that I am in,” said Kinchen. “There isn't a day that goes by that I don't have a great sense of pride in what I am doing.”

Kelly McKeague, the director of the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency, said EOD technicians are critical members of its investigative and recovery teams, which deploy to remote, austere locations around the world.

“Our EOD pros keep our teams safe,” said McKeague, who has led the agency since September 2017. “Whether looking for unexploded World War II ordnance underwater off the coast of Europe or land mines in the jungles of Southeast Asia, they are essential to the team and contribute to helping us fulfill our sacred duty of bringing home America’s missing, their fellow comrades-in-arms.”

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