By John Burt, Air Force Civil Engineering Center Public Affairs / Published January 31, 2014
Staff Sgt. Daniel Esselstrom participates in an improvised explosive device training course Dec. 12, 2013, at Nellis AFB, Nev. The course teaches students to gain a holistic view of an IED scenario and provides more focused counter-IED training than what has been previously available. Esselstrom is a 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jason Couillard)
Staff Sgt. Daniel Esselstrom performs long-range reconnaissance to locate emplaced improvised explosive devices at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. During the Global Counter-IED Threat Assessment Course, here, EOD teams are tested with a wide variety of scenarios including missions navigating challenging terrain on foot with limited resources. Esselstrom is with the 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron, Moody AFB, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Tam)
First Lt. Steve Bernero prepares a modern demolitions initiator during an explosive ordnance disposal, counter-improvised explosive device training course Dec. 12, 2013, at Nellis AFB, Nev. Modern demolitions initiator is a suite of initiating components used to activate all standard military demolitions and explosives. Bernero is the 23rd Civil Engineering Squadron explosive ordnance disposal flight commander from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Tam)
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) --
Detect, identify, neutralize -- that is the essence of the explosive ordnance disposal mission.
Over the past decade, the threat of roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices has become all too familiar to deployed Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians. An advanced course at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., is providing future EOD team leaders new, in-depth training on how to defeat these deadly threats overseas and at home.
The Global Counter-IED Threat Assessment Course was started in 2012 by EOD training experts at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center's detachment at Tyndall AFB.
"This is the first advanced training for our team leaders to hone their leadership skills and management of counter-IED operations," said Senior Master Sgt. Ed Lockhart, the training and operations program manager and course developer. "It provides a holistic approach to dealing with IED threats. We teach them to look at the whole picture, not just rely on a procedural checklist. As the team leader comes on scene, he or she assesses the complete situation before taking action."
Students selected for the course are new team leaders with real-life IED experience through deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Course developers wanted the class to not only incorporate lessons-learned over the past 10 years, but include scenarios the new team leaders could be called upon to face at home.
The course is very responsive to world intelligence and events, Lockhart said. Within days following the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings, course leaders had developed a training scenario based on the incident and added it to the curriculum.
"We are not training for a specific location or type of incident. We're training our team leaders to execute competent counter-IED operations anywhere, anytime and for anybody," Lockhart said. "All training scenarios are taken from actual incidents world-wide. The students may face an operation based on a suicide vest in Colombia or a vehicle bomb from Ireland."
Likewise, the instructors come from a variety of backgrounds, including members from the international EOD community and coalition partners.
"(The instructors) brought a new perspective and opened our eyes to a lot of techniques we aren't used to," said Staff Sgt. David Thomas, a former student and EOD journeyman with Tyndall AFB's 325th Civil Engineer Squadron. "With IEDs, we've generally been in a wartime situation. Domestic counter-IED ops (in the United States) are different. They're criminal in nature and require more forensics and evidence gathering."
During the two-week course, students are put through as many as 56 hands-on training operations.
"It was fairly high-paced, but with enough time for discussion about each op in between," said Staff Sgt. James Hendel, EOD craftsmen with the 325th CES. "Some of the ops were quick. Some were much more intensive and would take several hours and a lot of bomb suit time."
Thomas said he now feels more confident and better prepared to lead a team through IED scenarios.
"To be out there, hands on and see it face to face, you understand why they want to use this approach or that approach," Thomas said. "Any EOD tech will tell you the hands on is some of the most effective training you can have. You get a lot more experience that way."
Former students can also share what they've learned with other EOD technicians and apply it in counter-IED training at their base.
"It's been a lost art," said Chief Master Sgt. James Brewster, the EOD career field manager. "The real-world operations in Iraq and Afghanistan highlighted the need for it."
Courses like this capture real-world knowledge and experience for future generations, Brewster said, by providing standardized training for deployments and domestic IED threats. AFCEC training experts hope the counter-IED course will become a prerequisite for EOD Airmen to advance in their careers and as part of the joint service EOD program.
"We encourage other services to come on board and institutionalize it," Brewster said. "It's not just an Air Force competency, it's a joint competency."