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Saturday, January 29, 2022

These Marines Do One of the Military’s Most Dangerous Jobs

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  • One of the most dangerous military jobs is as an EOD technician.
  • These forces risk life and limb to respond to IEDs and other explosive threats.
  • Two Marine Corps EOD techs recently told Insider about the job’s challenges.

There is no shortage of dangerous jobs in the US military, and one of the most dangerous is EOD, soldiers serving in military bomb squads.

EOD technicians rush toward lethal threats that others avoid, such as improvised explosive devices, and the cost of a minor misstep can be the loss of life or a limb.

“There were times when I was standing on something that could kill me and I was there trying to visualize all the choices I made in life that got me to that moment,” Naval EOD Technology Sergeant. Carlos Villarreal, who has been in the Marines for more than 18 years, told Insider.

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One of Villarreal’s most terrifying moments in the Army came during his first combat deployment as EOD technology, when his team leader was killed in response to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2011. His death rocked Villarreal, putting the risks of the job in focus.

“He was one of the guys we were looking forward to,” Villarreal said.

He pushed those thoughts aside and did his job. It was the training he received from the artillery sergeant and others, he said, that brought him home alive.

A Navy EOD operation operates with a simulated explosive charge during a training exercise.

A Navy EOD disposer works by simulating an IED during a training exercise.

US Marine Corps

“If you think it’s going to explode, don’t go down there.”

EOD technicians are highly trained, with training programs lasting nearly a year and covering a lot of vital information not only to do the job but to survive, but even with excellent training, the job is still challenging.

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Sometimes the explosives are complex. Sometimes the bomb is in a place that is difficult to manage, such as near a populated civilian area such as a hospital or school. And sometimes it isn’t immediately apparent that a threat exists until someone finds it.

Insider Michael Gaidesky, Chief Officer No. 5, Michael Gaidesky, who has been in the EOD for most of his 23 years in the Marines and previously deployed to Iraq.

“It’s always the one you don’t know about that’s going to get you,” he said. “I was definitely one step closer to walking on something before I saw it. That’s definitely worrying.”

Gaydeski and Villarreal both made it through with their own deployments, but not everyone did. They said the hardest part of the job was losing people, and Villarreal shared that he lost friends, and colleagues in the field of EOD techniques, to fighting, as well as to fighting with inner demons like PTSD.

5th Marine Corps Chief Petty Officer Michael Jaydsky, Commanding Officer for Headquarters and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), walks through standard operating procedures with EOD technicians during a training event at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina August 12, 2021.

5th Marine Corps Chief Petty Officer Michael Jaydsky, the commanding officer for HQ and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), goes over standard operating procedures with EOD technicians.

US Marines Photograph by Lance Cpl. Jacob Bertram

Each marine EOD technology handles work stress differently. Villarreal referred to the narrow family EOD community, explaining that EOD personnel “depend on each other to get through these trying times.” Gaidesky spoke positively of the EOD community as well, calling it the best part of the job, but added that his belief also helps him meet its challenges.

“I believe in God and I think He’s in control. I think I’m going to die when he says I’m going to die,” he said. “I trust in God and find no pressure in disarming the bombs.”

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“But don’t get me wrong,” Gaidesky said. “I am a very careful person, and I preach to my comrades that,” noting that “there are always things you can do to mitigate the risks of the situation.”

He said EOD personnel should be wary of complacency, explaining that this is “where the men in my field start getting hurt.”

Another important lesson trying to drive home is to be careful, “If you think it’s going to explode, don’t get down there.”

EOD personnel have heavy protective armor usually called bomb suits to protect them from small explosions, but they do not make the wearer invincible. If it was a vehicle-sized bomb, Gaidesky said, “all the shields in the world wouldn’t save you if you were right above it.”

A massive bomb suit can actually be a drag in some situations because it limits dexterity and affects the visibility of your EOD technology. So in some dangerous situations, an EOD technician may use only limited protective equipment.

Gaidsky said that if he didn’t feel good about something, he wouldn’t go there. “I will use robots or some other remote means to mitigate it,” he said, explaining that other options are usually available, but not always.

A Navy EOD technician responds to a simulated vehicle-mounted explosive device during training.

A Navy EOD technician responds to a simulated vehicle-mounted explosive device during training.

US Marine Corps

“You have to make a decision.”

The Marine Corps EOD community consists of volunteers who come from other military professional disciplines. Jaedsky was a Marine for four years and Villarreal was a communications technician before they joined the EOD team.

EOD appeals to different Marines for various reasons. Villarreal decided he wanted to be an EOD technician when he saw an EOD team while working in Iraq.

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“Watching these guys, their professionalism and courage, made me want to show off[eral] Moving into that community,” he said, adding that he “wanted to be one of those people who are heading toward the danger that most people were running away from.”

Marine Corps Commander Sgt.  Carlos Villarreal, EOD technician, gives a safety briefing ahead of an explosive ordnance disposal practice event at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina, August 12, 2021

Marine Corps Commander Sgt. Carlos Villarreal, EOD technician, provides a safety brief.

US Marines Photograph by Lance Cpl. Jacob Bertram

When Marines volunteer to work in an EOD, they go through a screening process to ensure they are a good fit and are then sent to an EOD school at Eglin Air Force Base for training.

Perhaps the hardest part of the training, Gaidesky said, is the testing, which requires future EOD techniques to combine and use all of the skills they learn in the program.

“The coach will guide you from a distance and say, ‘Well, do you see that? it’s your problem. “And that’s basically all you get, that’s your problem.”

“They give it to you with a script, maybe like it’s in a hospital or out of a school or something,” he said. “The reason for that is because you can’t just push the easy button and just blow it up.”

Regardless of whether it’s a training scenario or a real-world situation, EOD technicians have to deal with it with the realization that their actions have consequences, but they can’t let that overwhelm them, while letting caution lead to inaction.

“You have to make a decision,” Villarreal said, adding that “you have to be confident in your choice” no matter what. “This is how you’re going to go about your day,” he said.

A Marine wearing a heavy explosive protective suit

A Marine wearing a heavy-duty explosive suit.

US Marine Corps

“We were never told what it could be’

Gaydeski and Villarreal both work for the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina. Jayedsky is the uniformed officer in charge, directs the EOD team tasked with explosive emergency response to the base and surrounding areas, and Villareal is the NCO in charge of the EOD division.

In combat deployments abroad, EOD technicians were attached to various units and dealt mainly with IEDs. Here in the United States, they and fellow EOD technologists sometimes support local law enforcement, responding to local explosive threats that are sometimes very different from what they’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here in the United States, Jayedsky said, they are often called upon to respond to some type of unexploded ordnance, although it appears in eastern North Carolina.

It was not uncommon for an explosive to drift ashore after a hurricane, he said, explaining that “there is already a lot of ordnance in the ocean.” He added that “artillery shells from the Civil War and battlefields from the Revolutionary War are also more common than people think.”

“Then World War II veterans brought a lot of things home, too,” Jaydsky said.

“The common call we get here in North Carolina is, ‘Hey, I was cleaning out my grandfather’s garage and found this bomb,'” he said. ‘This is an Army thing with cradle-to-grave policy. We’re not giving up any of our munitions, even if some of them have been out of place for a while.”

Working with dangerous explosives, whether it’s smelting bombs, disarming IEDs, looking after a grenade someone found in an attic, or putting pyrotechnics at an air show, is sometimes misunderstood by those outside.

Villarreal said that sometimes when he tells people what he does for a living, people misunderstand him and his work, assuming he must be a crazy thrill-seeker.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that we are addicted to adrenaline, that we are crazy, that we are cowboys, but in fact, we are completely sane,” Villarreal said.

“For me, it’s always been about trying to save lives,” he said. “We’re basically the first responders. The person who wants this job is the kind who cares about people.”

“People who are attracted to this field are, as a rule, not adrenaline junkies,” Jaydsky explained, adding that they are “professionals who have an icon and seek to serve our fellow men.”

“We are infantry enablers. We disarm dangers beyond their capabilities so that they can continue their maneuvering,” he said. “I hope it matters. I wish I had saved lives. We were never told what it could have been.”

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