Blast radius: An EOD Airman's experience

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jessica Lockoski
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
When alarms blare and servicemembers bunker-down from an enemy attack, explosive ordnance disposal technicians are on scene, probing the risky remnants left behind. Plunging into harm's way, no matter how tense each situation is, they clear blast zones and disarm potential explosives.

After living under concentrated moments of uncertainly for six months, Tech. Sgt. Rory Stark, an EOD technician, returned in April from his fifth deployment since enlisting in 1998. On deployment, he successfully dismantled his share of bombs earning him one of the military's highest honors -- the Bronze Star.

As an EOD team leader, Sergeant Stark operated out of Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan and rotated between five deployment camp locations in Regional Command-East Afghanistan.

At more than half of approximately 60 incident sites, where his team responded to many improvised explosive devices and post-blast analysis, Sergeant Stark took the lead as an on-scene commander.

"Sergeant Stark's work ethic is matched by few," said Master Sgt. Jeremy Unterseher, Sergeant Stark's deployed supervisor. "His constant willingness to lead his EOD team into unknown and often in compromising situations is a testament of his leadership ability."

In one such compromising situation, Sergeant Stark responded to an Afghan dwelling that was suspected of containing an IED or IED components. After locating the concealed device beneath the structure, he determined it was a pressure plate IED.

Unable to rely on the EOD technologies that protect and assist technicians, Sergeant Stark said he relied on his training and expertise while under pressure.

"The only way into the qalat was through a door barely big enough for me to crawl through," Sergeant Stark said. "So we couldn't send an EOD robot in or wear a bomb suit. It's a tough call out there."

Conducting initial safety measures, the sergeant said he stripped off his protective equipment and crawled through the hole head first. He remotely disarmed the device, which enabled his teammates to remove it safely using a rope and their vehicle.

"You have a lot of responsibility," said Sergeant Stark. "It's definitely a difficult job in regards to stress when you show up on scene. As an on-scene commander, you are in charge of everything. When things go wrong, you take the blame for it; when they go right, you get the reward."

Other people have to turn to the technicians and rely on their expertise to get them through a potentially dangerous situation, Sergeant Stark said.

"You have people's lives that require your support, and you try to support them the best way you can," he said. "It puts you at risk, and that's the nature of this job."

Sergeant Stark demonstrated this in February when he joined an air insertion mission with an Army Special Forces unit.

Sergeant Stark and two additional EOD technicians joined the unit to locate insurgents responsible for killing four servicemembers in an IED blast.

On the ground, Sergeant Stark and his EOD team approached a qalat that housed the insurgents. Gunfire erupted at the scene; the sergeant took cover and directed his team as it had its first combat experience

After the threat subsided, Sergeant Stark helped locate and dispose a weapons cache, one of five he handled while deployed.

In some cases, as he disarmed explosives and responded to launch sites, many of the components he examined and collected for evidence served as vital intelligence, helping to capture known terrorists.

"One of the devices I retrieved and disarmed was linked to a specific bomber," Sergeant Stark said. "Biometrics professionals matched his DNA on the device to some previously collected, adding to their capabilities to identify and locate the guy."

Regardless of the type of mission, camaraderie between teammates is a bond like no other, Sergeant Stark said. The lives of everyone on the team rest in each individual's hands.

"It hits home when people you know get killed doing the same kind of work in situations we're doing every day," he said.

With Sergeant Stark's latest deployment behind him, he said the Bronze Star medal he now wears is a reminder, not of his deeds, but of two fellow EOD technicians who were killed and a long-time friend and technician who was seriously injured while deployed.

He said he dedicates his medal to them.