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EOD craftsman balances family, mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Janelle Patiño
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

A 5-year-old boy stood in front of his kneeling father in a hotel room, the boy weighed down with 50 pounds of tactical body armor. The gear weighed more than the boy.

Tech. Sgt. Kelly Badger, a 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal craftsman, placed his hand on his encumbered son’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes. It was a powerful moment between father and son.

Just a week prior, the family attended the funeral of Badger’s supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Daniel Douville, an EOD flight team leader. Douville and Badger previously deployed together in 2010.

Douville died when an improvised explosive device he was operating on in a village of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, detonated and mortally wounded him June 26, 2011. Douville’s team was part of a joint coalition under the United Kingdom’s Operation Brimstone.

“I remember my oldest son, Tristan, crying and telling me he doesn’t want the bad guys to get me after we had left my supervisor’s funeral,” Badger recalled. “That moment broke my heart, but I have to be strong for them.”

Badger kneeled before Tristan that night in their hotel room, both of them knowing he would leave for Afghanistan again the next day. Badger watched as his son struggled beneath the weight of his improved outer tactical vest and Kevlar helmet. The boy also struggled to hold back his tears.

In that vulnerable moment, with his son in the wake of the loss of a fellow EOD wingman, Badger knew he had to reassure his family of his training and determination.

“I assured him that I’m a fighter, and I won’t let the bad guys get their dad,” Badger said. “My gear would keep me safe.”

For Badger, joining the EOD flight was his calling. His focus and drive was to fight for his country, especially after the events of 9/11.

“I wanted to fight for our country. I chose EOD because I wanted to keep our brothers and sisters in the service from getting killed by IEDs,” Badger said. “I chose to save lives even if it meant putting my own at risk.”

The drive to serve runs deep in Badger’s family. His brother, retired Staff Sgt. Mark Badger, also served as an EOD technician, eliminating more than 60 IEDs in 2010 during a deployment to Afghanistan before being injured in an explosion while providing counter-IED support to an Army cavalry unit.

EOD Airmen are trained to detect, disarm, detonate and dispose of explosive threats all over the world. They are assigned to some of the most dangerous missions where they tactically perform harrowing and demanding tasks in diverse environments.

The EOD flight at Al Udeid Air Base supports the base by being trained and ready to respond to any emergency dealing with unexploded ordnance, aircraft crashes, IED threats or suspicious packages. EOD also works alongside and supports the Joint Special Operations Task Force mission by partnering with host nation EOD units, to include the Qatari Internal Security Forces. The EOD flight also trains with joint service EOD units that are deployed to other locations throughout the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.

Although the deployed EOD mission is different compared to its stateside mission, Airmen still deal with training. However, Badger points out that training here is more realistic due to equipment availability and natural environmental situations, such as the hot desert weather.

“If we aren’t dealing with real-life incidents, we are training,” Badger said. “We get as much training with as many different situations as we can to gear up for future incidents, even if it means flying out to different locations throughout the region.”

The need for constant, diverse training is critical. Badger reflected on a previous IED response, citing that his team was called in the middle of the night to spend more than six hours in an underground tunnel system in Afghanistan after wading through waist-deep snow runoff to clear out an IED that would have been powerful enough to destroy a vehicle and swallow it down a 30-foot-deep hole.

“With the right amount of training we have done, my wingman and I successfully cleared the IED and saved some brothers-in-arms from being killed, even while putting our lives at risk and being on the verge of hypothermia,” he recalled.

According to Badger, his family is what motivates and inspires him to get back home safe and sound.

“Because I’m gone most of the time, I have missed special moments such as childbirths, birthdays and anniversaries,” he said. “But I am grateful, and I salute my wife for being strong and for taking care of business while I’m gone. She is a great military spouse.”

For Badger, he continues to do what he does not only for his immediate family, but also for his military family.

“I do my job for my family back home and the Airmen whom I serve with side by side every day of my life,” he added. “The more I can help, train and share what I have learned throughout the years, the better and safer they will be, especially when they get called upon to go to combat.”