AF EOD team closes book on Afghanistan mission

  • Published
  • By Lois Walsh
  • 96th Test Wing Public Affairs
When a team of explosive ordnance disposal technicians returned from deployment Sept. 14, it closed the final chapter in a mission that lasted more than a decade.

Family, co-workers and friends of Tech Sgt. Joseph Burke, Tech. Sgt. Michael Edwards and Senior Airman Joshua Frehner, assigned to the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron's EOD Flight, welcomed the men home. The team's deployment was the last for Eglin EOD technicians supporting Army combat commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, the longest war since Iraq hostilities began in 2003.

"Ever since I've been in EOD, it's been wartime EOD," said Edwards. "It's kind of weird to come back and not have that anymore. We'll have to see what kind of changes come up."

According to Maj. Joshua Connell, program director, Air Force EOD, EOD Airmen completed almost 20,000 missions in Afghanistan.

"Our Airmen responded to 6,546 improvised explosive devices, conducted 2,665 post blast analyses, and executed 5,093 unexploded ordnance incidents," Connell said. "Six hundred explosive ordnance disposal technicians left their mark in the history of Enduring Freedom."

Filling requests for forces to support the Army peaked in 2010, said Capt. Nicholas Pulire, EOD flight commander. It was at a time when the Air Force EOD was manned at 74 percent. Locally, 36 out of 45 assigned were deployed at any given time.

"It was grueling," Pulire said. "The test mission was ramping up to support the wars and the guys here spent every day on the range with sometimes three test missions to support in a day."

As the Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns progressed, the mission became less operational and leaned toward training its troops as opposed to supporting combat operations like clearing routes by diffusing explosive ordnance, ground maneuvers and convoying into villages. While EOD will continue to deploy, it will be in support of Air Force missions like airfield operations.

The 96th EOD Flight is slowly getting back into a routine. Two Eglin EOD technicians were killed during the war. Eight suffered debilitating injuries and have, or are in the process of being medically retired. Their disabilities range from traumatic brain injury due to concussive events to severe joint injuries from the heavy equipment carried. Those positions can now be filled with a new generation of EOD technicians who are deployable and healthy enough to support the mission here and overseas. Once they are in place, the shop will be at full capacity.

"Our main purpose is to train for our next conflict to be able to fill combatant commander requirements," Pulire said.

Now the EOD technicians will settle in to what could be considered a "peacetime" environment even though Frehner thinks the Air Force and Army missions could continue to overlap and "we'll still train for all that."

But for now, the EOD family is enjoying being reunited with loved ones and settling back into a routine.

"I'm happy to be home. We left in February and that was long enough for me," said Frehner. "A lot of people spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and to be the last one is rewarding."

The entire flight is glad to have its Airmen back safe and back with families.

"EOD technicians are all volunteers and they are a unique group of people who are motivated for many different reasons, but who all strive to do their best," Pulire said. "That's the reason the Army asked us to come back over and over again, because our techs are competent and the Army knew we could get the job done."