EOD exercise provides unique experience, training

  • Published
  • By Malcolm McClendon
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center
From a safe location, an Airman with the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron uses a video display screen and manual controls to maneuver a remote-controlled robot through the maze-like baggage handling area at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport


After a few turns, the cameras mounted on the robot send EOD Team Leader Staff Sgt. Guadalupe Corona the images he needs to locate a suitcase filled with explosives. With the operator control unit, he then directs the robots arm to clench the suitcase and transport it outside to a total containment vessel.


The explosive device is now safely contained, and Corona and his team move on to the next scenario.


Corona and other explosive ordnance disposal experts with the 325th CES put their skills to test against other military EOD and civilian public safety bomb units in a friendly competition at the inaugural Eastern National Robotics Rodeo and Capability Exercise in Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 28 – Sept. 1.


“It was good to compete in the different scenarios and see how other agencies tackle the objectives,” Corona said. “This event has given us great training opportunities we don’t get at home station. The airport scenarios provided new terrain and obstacles that pushed our skills and our equipment to the limit.”


The teams included the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, the Atlanta and Chattanooga Police Departments, Washington D.C. Capitol Police and Pentagon Bomb Squad. And while the competition was fierce between these professionals to complete the nine different scenarios thrown at them in the fastest time, organizers of the event had their sites set on different targets.


“This event not only allowed the participants to get valuable training and enhance interagency communication, but helped us define our requirements for future robotics and other technologies to enhance bomb squad safety and response,” Dr. John Olive, EOD subject matter expert for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, said. “Through this we can make sure we have the right technology to meet current and future needs for our EOD operators in the field.”


AFCEC, along with the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office’s Technical Support Working Group and the United Kingdom Defense Science and Technology Laboratory co-sponsored this year’s event and have been on the forefront of identifying future robotic requirements to enhance our global counter-terrorism capabilities.


Col. Anthony J. Davit, director of AFCEC’s Readiness Directorate, identified the Micro Tactical Ground Robot as an example of this.


“The MTGR was a gap that was an identified deficiency by our EOD technicians, so we took that on as an AFCEC project,” Davit said. “All the way from conception to fielding, in two years we were able to issue a complete solution to that gap and put back-packable robots in our Airmen’s hands.”


Dr. Ed Bundy, program manager for the CTTSO-TSWG’s Improvised Device Defeat and Explosives Countermeasures office, which helps develop advanced technologies for combating terrorism for both DOD and federal public safety bomb squads, adds this competition and other like events allows operators to exchange best practices.


“The public safety bomb squads here realized that the military have gained a lot of experience through operations in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Bundy said. “And on the other hand the military EOD technicians find that now they are back home in a domestic environment they can learn from the local bomb squads. It’s good for everyone on every level.”


Corona has eight years experience under his belt and says the training environment this exercise gave him and his team was invaluable.


“It’s good to get out here to compete and see what the civilian EOD teams are doing and it creates a camaraderie within the EOD community as a whole,” Corona said. “I’ve trained back at home station and had real experiences while deployed, but the scenarios here were very realistic and EOD driven. The airport baggage handling area and the airplane cabin simulator were spot on and forced us to use new techniques for maneuvering the robot.”


Despite the challenges the new environment posed, the 325th Airmen were able to take home a trophy for third place and invaluable experience.


“We did place third overall, but first place among the military teams and that’s saying something,” Corona said. “And the best thing is that we were able to learn new techniques and practices, and now we get to take them back home to share with the rest of the team.”