A tiny rope, less than an inch in circumference, holds his entire 250-pound body. Keeping the rope in his right hand, he moves it away from his body and quickly pushes off the wall using his feet. The slack allows him to jump a story and a half down the wall. When he’s ready to stop, he pulls the rope back behind his body and with little effort comes to a stop. Before long, he makes a few quick maneuvers back and forth with the rope. When he is comfortable, he completely lets go.
Feeling confident the information he just learned in the ropes course that morning was accurate, there he hangs, perfectly safe, upside-down off the wall of a three-story building.
The rappelling activity was just one of many exercises explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing, 104th Fighter Wing and 155th Air Refueling Wing completed as a part of the 2014 PATRIOT exercise at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Wisconsin, July 18-25. These three EOD units teamed up to learn as much as they could from each other during their short time together.
“The week was a huge success,” said Master Sgt. Jeffery K. Martin, 155th EOD flight superintendent. “Being together gave us a chance to cross-talk a lot of ideas and experiences.”
The group learned how to tie proper knots for rappelling, participated in fast rope exercises, climbed a free-falling ladder, worked on hook-and-line procedures, assembled and disassembled various bomb types and received all-terrain vehicle training certification.
Those activities were just the start. They learned even more.
“EOD is very dynamic,” Martin said. “If you put three technicians in a room and give them the same problem, you’ll find we have three different ways of doing things. Training together gives us a chance to share these ideas with each other. It’s especially beneficial for the junior members so they can see how we do it.”
Senior Airman John R. Tourtellotte, 104th Fighter Wing EOD flight, was the junior member out of 11 participants so he was put to the ultimate test during the final days of the exercise. He was tasked to lead the largest improvised explosive device exercise of the week, designed to test all the knowledge learned throughout the training.
“He kept it together the whole time,” Martin said. “We were all impressed.”
Tourtellotte provided the initial observations of the building that was set up with alarms and powder to simulate actual bombs, and he successfully got his team inside. The team found numerous IEDs and trip-wires they had to safely disassemble. Seven hours of intense concentration led Tourtellotte to learn valuable life lessons.
“I’ve never been the lead before,” Tourtellotte said. “It gave me a chance to test my skills and the things I’ve learned, and I also had more experienced teammates who could provide me guidance if I needed it. I learned a lot more being the lead than I would have taking orders from those more experienced, and I feel more confident if I get tasked to deploy.”
His determination and attention to detail led him to receive the first-ever unofficial EOD award, the “Helm of Victory.” The metal hard hat was presented to Tourtellotte by leadership for his hard work, and the unofficial token will continue to be used during future exercises to highlight key participants.
Following the final exercise of the week, the team of 11 EOD Airmen discussed the week’s activities, seeking ideas for the future. One of their biggest requests was to bring more EOD units in.
“The more EOD teams we have here, the more problems we can run and the more diversity we will have,” Martin said. “If we get more people here, we get more people trained and more information shared. The more people we have, the larger exercises we can run.”
Gathering more EOD teams to train together in the future could benefit those who deploy as well.
“By bringing everyone to one spot to train, you’re operating and exercising with people that you may be deployed with down the road,” said Master Sgt. Gilbert Holcomb, 115th EOD flight resources non-commissioned officer in-charge. “So, instead of getting tasked for deployment and showing up for your pre-deployment training and not knowing anyone you’re working with, getting together for these exercises gives everyone a chance to get to know each other ahead of time. Understanding one another’s experience levels and expertise allows deployments to go a lot smoother.”
Getting to know people from different units prior to deployments is not the only advantage to the PATRIOT exercise, the location was also a key advantage.
“I don’t have these facilities in Lincoln,” Martin said. “There are things I can do here that I can’t do at my home station at all. Take for example the react center – I don’t have anything equivalent to that down there. I don’t have the range capacity that Fort McCoy does so I can’t do large scale demolition like we do up here. I don’t have a training building as complex as this to accomplish indoor explosives training. Being able to come up here and knock out everything I need to do for a year, for all of my guys, in one [temporary duty assignment], without having to pay for lodging, is unheard of.”