CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — In today’s war, improvised explosive devices remain the number one threat to Marines and sailors forward deployed to Afghanistan.
To help counter this threat and save lives, members of the explosive ordnance disposal community have designed a counter IED course to train servicemembers regarding IED detection methods.
During the course, participants clear different paths, known as lanes, rigged with simulated IEDs in order to gain hands-on experience with different types of IED detection devices.
“When you look at the mission of these Marines, they have to worry about enemy forces , where they are going, being hungry and tired, so they lose [sight of] how precious this information is in their mind,” said Sgt. Jesse Early, an EOD technician with 1st EOD Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “They come here for refresher training which really helps out a lot because it keeps them in the right mindset."
For some Marines in the course, dismounted patrols are part of their daily routine. To keep it interesting and fresh, the instructors offer new methods to accomplish their tasks.
“We really try to stress to these guys to use common sense and not over think a situation,” said Staff Sgt. Gregory Mullins, a team leader with 1st EOD Co.
At the end of the lanes, an area is set up with ditches, bridges, fields, walls and doorways to create realistic environments that Marines may face in real-world operations.
“We try to teach them to think like the enemy thinks – they want us to take a certain path so I don’t want to go through a door that’s already there,” said Mullins. “We want to take a different path that we create."
Typically, the EOD technicians keep their classes small to create an open discussion forum and encourage learning at all levels.
“A lot of times, [privates first class] and lance corporals are afraid to ask questions in large groups because they don’t want to be the ones asking stupid questions,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Johnston, a team leader with 1st EOD Co. “But it’s those younger guys that are usually in the front, clearing a path for their squad. They are the ones that need to be asking questions.”
Though the instructors focus on the Marines who implement the counter-IED tools, they also like to stress counter IED concepts to platoon commanders who often participate in the course as well.
“One of the major points we try to drive is to maintain a tactical advantage,” said Johnston. “When it comes to taking over abandoned compounds, it is paramount for a commander to consider whether occupying that area is to their tactical advantage because those buildings are often prime locations to place IEDs.”
Normally, EOD technicians embed in various units to provide their expertise and to defeat IEDs across an area of operations. Teaching Marines that they will eventually work hand-in-hand with gives the EOD technicians a sense of esprit de corps.
“They keep us safe by watching our backs while we take care of post blast IED sites and we watch theirs by taking care of the IEDs,” said Johnston.
Ultimately, the end goal for all parties is the same: the mission is accomplished and everyone makes it home safely.
“The safety of these guys is paramount to us because we go out with them all the time,” said Mullins. “We train them to the best of our ability because we don’t want to see a blast hurt or kill someone. We genuinely care about them.”