Support: Surviving EOD


July 20, 2013: One of the many things the Afghans will miss when most American troops leave next year is the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) troops, who so expertly get rid of all the terrorist (and increasingly gangster) bombs and mines. To deal with that the Afghan army has been creating its own EOD force, with the help of the soon-to-be-gone foreign EOD experts. At this point the Afghan military has nearly 400 EOD technicians. They are kept quite busy because the Afghan army and police are taking over security responsibility for all of Afghanistan, and currently all but the most violent areas in the south and east are protected by Afghans. That means Afghan EOD teams are taking care of most of the bombs. Afghanistan will need about a thousand of these specialists to replace the departed American and NATO EOD specialists. Currently, two or three bombs go off each day and kill three or four Afghans on average. NATO has set up an EOD school staffed with 190 EOD experts and providing 19 different courses. Much of this training prepares soldiers and police to better spot bombs and call in EOD to deal with it.

The U.S. EOD troops are glad to be gone. There are only about 5,200 EOD techs in the American military (46 percent army, 30 percent navy, and the rest air force) and with all the work in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade it has been difficult keeping this force up to strength. Since September 11, 2001, the EOD teams took care of over 100,000 explosive devices and lost 111 of their people. EODs suffered a higher casualty rate (about twice as much) than the infantry over the last decade. These are the guys who go out and deal with roadside bombs that have been discovered. Actually, army and marine engineers also fill in, at least on the simple cases (where the bomb is obvious and you can just send a robot out to drop off an explosive to destroy the bomb). But it's always preferable to have the EOD specialists do it because that gets the job done more quickly, with fewer casualties.

The problem has always been that EOD guys who have twenty years’ service can retire on half pay and take a safer, but similar, civilian job and make more than they made while in the uniform. Many of the most experienced EOD operators eligible to retire are under pressure from their families to do so, so daddy can stay home, be safer, and make more money. It's a hard deal to turn down. To encourage these veteran EOD experts to remain in uniform a little longer, many were offered bonuses of up to $25,000 a year, for re-enlisting for up to six years.

In peacetime military EOD technicians do stay in one place for long periods and don't undergo much more risk than do civilian EOD teams. But because of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, air force EOD personnel were sent in to help out the army and navy (who did the work for marines) EOD teams. Thus, all Department of Defense EOD personnel are exposed to higher casualties and more time away from the family. Retiring at twenty began to look very attractive. The cash bonuses alone were not what kept a lot of these veterans in but also the gesture the bonus offer represents. The high casualties have also made it more difficult to recruit new EOD technicians. That's despite the increasing signing bonuses for qualified recruits (as high as $40,000). The demand for EODs led to doubling the EOD force after September 11, 2001. Now the military plans to maintain that number, which will be easier with most EODs going over to the safer peace-time routine.

The EOD training is long (eight months) and arduous because the work is dangerous. The higher casualty rate is no secret. That is not a totally negative thing because EOD always attracted the adrenaline junkies, who were skilled and disciplined enough to get through the training. But these guys can just join the infantry or marines and get all the thrills they can handle but at much less risk of injury.

In peacetime, EOD is a better gig than the infantry, and many of the older EOD hands are looking forward to that. This will help with recruiting because lowering standards was never an option because that just drives up casualties and ruins the morale (and reenlistment rates) of the people you already have. The Afghans have adopted this attitude and their trainees take quickly to all the details (of different kinds of bombs) and equipment (robots, sensor, and the full body protective suit) the job involves. Many of the new Afghan EODs already have experience working on the demining teams that have been clearing Afghanistan of all the mines and old munitions left behind by the Russians in the 1980s.




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