JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
Explosive Ordnance Disposal's mission is to safely dispose of potentially deadly explosive devices.
With the extreme stress of this mission, even the best-equipped Airman may find himself facing unexploded ordnance of an entirely different kind.
In a job that exposes workers to potentially devastating amounts of kinetic energy on a daily basis, EOD personnel are subjected to a large amount of mental and emotional stress.
Without effectively and efficiently removing it, this emotional bomb can cause serious professional and personal damage.
This is where the mental pillar of strength comes in, and EOD is equipped with a variety of tools to enhance it.
One such resource is the EOD safety day, an annual Air Force-wide requirement.
The EOD Airmen on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson hosted theirs Tuesday.
"Safety is our job," said Air Force Master Sgt. Tobin Bryant, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of quality assurance for 673d Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight. "Before they put those three little letters, O-R-M, together, we were already doing [operational risk management]."
As a part of the safety day, EOD Airmen learn from past cases by examining what went wrong and teaching others what could have been done differently, said Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Adrian, superintendent of the flight.
Newer EOD Airmen will typically do case studies on these events and then offer a briefing explaining what could have been done differently, Adrian said.
"These guys paid the ultimate sacrifice," Adrian said. "Us looking back at that to figure out what happened ... it's good training."
This is not an easy process with a career field so small. It is not uncommon to have had personal experiences with the individual in the case, Adrian said.
"It's hard for a lot of us, especially when it's someone close to you, who you've been stationed with," Adrian explained. "Next thing you know, you've moved on and he's been killed."
During wartime operations, deployments for EOD members are usually six months long, and involve a lot of stress before and after the deployment - not just during.
"During the wars, it was constantly deploying, coming back, and reintegrating before deploying again," Bryant said.
Adrian said the Airmen have to shift into a radically different way of thinking and back every six months.
"The Airman has the mindset of 'I'm getting blown up, I'm getting shot at, I'm killing people', and then ... Boom, he's home, and his kid is excited and screaming, 'Daddy I want to do this. I want to do that.' And he freaks out because he doesn't know how to handle it."
Learning to make those critical transitions from deployment to home and back again is just one focus of the safety day.
The other is keeping sanity while on the job; whether disposing of explosives in Afghanistan or in Alaska, no two incidents are the same.
"Every case is different; you don't know what you're walking into," Bryant said. "It's tough and you have to stick together."
While the safety day touches on physical safety, mental safety and resiliency take top billing.
A large part of that focus is on nurturing strong relationships with co-workers.
After the case studies, EOD technicians around the Air Force usually have a barbeque or a lunch with families and enjoy a little bit of companionship. "
We're really close," Adrian said. "We take care of one another."
Bryant explained as people go through life struggles, co-workers will come together and support them.
"People go through [medical evaluation] boards, divorces, deployments - and all that changes the person," Bryant said. "It's affected all the shops."
"Our career field is fueled by guys that are wanting to be here," said Senior Airman Robert Reynolds, an EOD apprentice with the 637d CES. "When you have an entire shop full of guys who are like that, you all draw together."
Helping each other - through the bomb disposal and the barbecues - can get Airmen past the tough times.
"Resiliency is not about what has happened to me, but what do I do now," Reynolds said.
Just like the Airmen keep their gear tidy and ready to go, they take time to prepare their most valuable resource.
"Now it's time to start fixing ourselves," said Bryant. "Not by shining the equipment and organizing the shop, but fixing ourselves as a flight, as individuals."