Air Force teams with Army, law enforcement during EOD exercises

  • Published
  • By Steve Warns
  • AFCEC Public Affairs

As threats continue to emerge, interoperability and cooperation will be crucial for explosive ordnance disposal Airmen, said Maj. Mark Hope, deputy commander of the 301st Civil Engineer Squadron, Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base.

"They'll have better networking, better relationships with local bomb technicians," said Hope, who was observing EOD exercises recently at Fort Wolters in Mineral Wells, Texas. "They'll know who has the best equipment and how they're going to utilize that in real-world situations. It doesn't just benefit the Air Force. It benefits everyone."

The U.S. Air Force; the U.S. Army; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Federal Bureau of Investigation; and local law enforcement participated in Raven's Challenge X, which gives military EOD and bomb squad technicians a chance to merge resources and perform counter-IED operations together in real-world scenarios.

The U.S. Army funds Raven's Challenge exercises with the ATF organizing and leading them. Raven's Challenges are also scheduled for Oriskany, New York; Starke, Florida; and Elma, Washington.

"It's a very popular program not only from the military standpoint, but from a public safety standpoint," said John Simpson, Raven's Challenge program manager and EOD technician with the ATF. "There's no place like it in the country where you can have an exercise like this run for you in a non-evaluative environment. When you're trying to do EOD things, there's not a lot of opportunities.

"These exercises are huge. We try to have scenarios that have actually occurred," Simpson added.

The teams participated in scenarios, or lanes, consisting of improvised mortar tubes; a bus with hostages and an IED; X-Ray diagnostics and interpretation; a booby-trapped cabin; a downed unarmed vehicle with device on the ground; and propane and air mixture inside of the vehicle.

The U.S. Air Force's participation particularly pleases Simpson.

"We've had great Air Force cooperation the last couple of years, especially amongst the Guard elements," he said. "The active Air Force really engaged us this year in the early planning process from the Air Force staff at the Pentagon level, and they've been coming to our presentations and meetings all year."

Technical Sgt. Russell Szczepaniec of the 301st Civil Engineer Squadron teamed with Army EOD and local bomb squad technicians during the bus lane. In the scenario, Szczepaniec's main task was to reassure passengers.

"You're instructed to stay in your seat and not move," Szczepaniec told the passengers. "Just stay as calm as you can."

Those interpersonal skills during a traumatic experience are vital, said Senior Master Sgt. Steven Coppock, Air Force EOD training program manager with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

"The Airmen just need to talk to people in a calm manner," Coppock said. "The worst thing that could happen is for them to not do that, and the hostages go crazy. The most important thing is to gain access and calm them down."

Another important aspect during the scenario was teamwork, Coppock said.

"Working together with our civilian and law enforcement counterparts is something that's going to be coming up more and more," Coppock said. "The important piece of this is we get to see how they work, and they get to see how we work and start learning that language.

"Every time you come out here, you learn something different. For example, I watched a couple of Airmen at the booby-trap cabin. Instead of going through the front door and remote opening it, they actually took a saw, cut the wall and went through the wall. The bomber who booby-trapped the place didn't expect them, and they went through a way that wasn't expected.

"It makes you think outside the box," Coppock added.

Hope said videos made during the exercises provide feedback for the Airmen.

"It's very much like a sports film session," he said. "It's crucial for them to get this experience and use it in the future.