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EOD tech draws inspiration from family members

Tech. Sgt. Jacqueline Risley, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, Explosive Ordnance Disposal equipment non-commissioned officer in charge, assists with the calibration of the unit’s bomb robot Aug. 24, 2018, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. Risley joined the nearly all-male EOD career field to fulfill her desire to constantly be challenged. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Stoltz)

Tech. Sgt. Jacqueline Risley, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal equipment non-commissioned officer in charge, assists with the calibration of the unit’s bomb robot Aug. 24, 2018, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. Risley joined the nearly all-male EOD career field to fulfill her desire to constantly be challenged. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Stoltz)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- As an Airman trudges through the desert, the 120-degree heat makes her 80-pound bomb suit feel like an oven. The Airman scans the provided coordinates, and locates the improvised explosive device buried partially in the sand.

The explosive ordnance disposal technician communicates with her team, using specialized equipment to render the scene safe. As the training operation concludes and the device is removed from the scene and the Airman removes their helmet.

While many would consider the lifestyle of an EOD Airman a stressful and arduous task to undertake, to Tech. Sgt. Jaqueline Risley, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron EOD equipment non-commissioned officer in charge, this is everything she has ever dreamed of.

“Prior to joining the Air Force, I was going to college and didn't feel I was being challenged enough,” said Risley, who is deployed from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. “When I was younger, my cousin and I always talked about joining the military. He led the way when he joined the Marine Corps, and I followed suit a few years later when I first visited an Air Force recruiting office.”

While her cousin inspired her entry to the enlisted force, her older sister inspired her to simply do great things in life. Although she passed away at a young age, Risley said her sister told her to chase down her goals, no matter how impossible they seem and to never follow the status quo.

“The recruiter went over a list of positions,” said the Chester, Illinois, native. “After the recruiter explained what EOD was all about and watching the recruiting video, I was convinced it was the job I wanted. If I was seeking a challenge, it was very clear that EOD was going to offer just that.”

Sometimes people get exactly what they ask for. Immediately after her basic training graduation, Risley was flung directly into the 169-day EOD technical school, where she would complete a flurry of physical training requirements and competency tests. This is also where course failure is commonplace.

However, this is exactly the challenge she envisioned, and remembering her sister’s words, she rose to the occasion. The mental and physical challenge of EOD is the best part of her job, where according to Risley, the training, technology and tactics are rarely the same from one week to the next.

“The career field is always evolving,” said the nine-year Air Force veteran. “We are always training and working toward not only adapting to the ever-changing environment, but finding ways to navigate through those changes with success. Those moments with your team are the most rewarding.”

The moments with her team often include days of clearing and processing explosive materials, providing hazardous material response or developing operations plans. Risley said each task possesses a sense of camaraderie that extends beyond the battlefield, and even helping each other with the task of wearing their bomb suit often becomes a mini-roast session. However, when duty calls, the team knows they can count on each other; their lives depend on it.

According to Risley, there are more challenges in EOD than insurgent-created explosives, including the obstacles that come along with being a female EOD technician.

She is hopeful some of the stigma can be quelled with the slated implementation of the Air Force’s Tier-II physical fitness program. The program establishes a shared baseline fitness standard for Airmen, regardless of their age, rank or gender.

Risley believes there are many people who have preconceived ideas about females being in predominantly male career fields, but she still feels the positive experiences outweigh the negative. She attributed her resilience to her wife, Katie, her 3-year-old son, Jamison, and the supportive supervisors and wingmen throughout her career.

“I have met and worked with some of the most amazing people throughout my career, and I am thankful for each and every one of them,” Risley said. “I'm also grateful for those who have mentored me along the way. I owe so much to them, and hope I can repay them by passing on their words of wisdom to others.”

The mentorship she received has helped her succeed in her career thus far, helping her combat the dated mindset some individuals may hold.

“I strive to be identified as an EOD tech first, and a female second when it comes to my career,” she said. “The other technicians I have worked with have all been extremely supportive and have done just that. To them, I am not just a female, I am an explosive ordnance disposal technician.”

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