FORT MCCOY, Wis. – Airmen, Marines, and Soldiers from a range of units and career fields participated in an exercise focusing on Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) at Fort McCoy and Volk Field, Wisconsin, May 15 to 25.
The 115th Fighter Wing hosted Audacious Warrior, an annual EOD training exercise that incorporates partners in supporting roles including the 115th Fighter Wing Emergency Management and Security Forces, the 432nd Civil Affairs Army reserve unit out of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the Combat Logistics Battalion 22 out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. More than a dozen EOD units from across the country participated in the exercise.
“EOD has nine mission sets, and we try to exercise as many as possible here to get our three, five, and seven levels more experience working in teams, especially teams they’re not used to working with,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Vandermolen, 115th Fighter Wing logistics section chief and facilitator of Audacious Warrior. “We’re able to leverage all the equipment and training facilities that are available to us here.”
Security forces, EOD, and emergency management generally don’t work together until there is a real-world emergency. Exercises like Audacious Warrior emphasize the importance and provide an opportunity for these groups to deliberately train together in order to build partnerships and be prepared for when emergencies occur.
“We want to set each other up for success,” said Vandermolen. “For example, security forces will most likely respond or find suspicious items first and then request us, and in turn, if a situation then included some type of [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear] hazard, we would then potentially request [emergency management] support. So if we train appropriately, we know what each entity brings to the table and what they might be looking for when they show up on scene.”
Vandermolen also discussed the common occurrence of EOD working with other service branches and the necessity for EOD to be prepared for those calls.
“In terms of our joint service support, it occurs mostly overseas in a contingency operations environment,” said Vandermolen. “All EOD technicians attend the same technical school and receive the same baseline training which can make it much more common for Air Force EOD teams to respond to calls for assistance from other branches. We all speak a different language with our jargon or terms, and when we get up here we can hash some of that out. It gets us all on the same page so that we can go operate together more efficiently.”
Part of the responsibilities of an EOD member is building the improvised explosive devices or inert improvised explosive devices used for training. However, Vandermolen explained that bomb makers tend to have a “signature,” varying techniques, methods, and materials used from person to person. Solely training with members of their own EOD unit can limit exposure and training on diffusing explosives.
“When you get thrown on a team with people you don’t know and they have different methods or preferences, you can add those thought processes and techniques to your skillset and bring them back to your unit,” said Vandermolen. “It seems to help our career field evolve and ensures our individual units have fewer blind spots in their training.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jacob Campbell, a Marine Corps EOD officer with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, brought his own personal experience to the exercise by creating training events based on years of Iraq and Afghanistan warfighting. As a Marine, EOD specifics are tailored more toward maneuver warfare. For example, a Marine EOD unit may be attached to a Marine infantry platoon or company providing direct or general support. This provided Air Force and Army EOD units with training that may not otherwise have been highlighted.
“We’ve been partnering with the Air National Guard, multiple units, over a couple of different training events now,” said Campbell. “This specific event during this exercise which we’re in charge of proctoring, is a dismounted type of mobile patrol scenario. We’ve been tailoring the problems encountered to be disrupting maneuver warfare, and inhibiting coalition forces, either towards humanitarian support and or direct support operations.”
The Marines present at the exercise, like the rest of the EOD units at Audacious Warrior, were invited to participate in the event by the 115th Fighter Wing. Campbell explained that training opportunities shared with other units are reciprocated, creating not only opportunities to work with other units, but more training opportunities in general.
“We invited them to IED effects we put on months ago,” said Campbell. “We tailored it to what we do, how it normally would be employed and experienced at the Marine level, and we invited the Air Force to come out. They sent two teams. When we host the training it’s a lot of planning, but when we go somewhere else, we get to fall under their ammo supplies, food, etc.”
Campbell emphasized the importance of having the opportunity to not only training with other branches and units, but the importance of training away from their home station.
“An eye opener through all four of these iterations that we’ve worked with the Air National Guard is that the access to ranges is substantially larger than just what most units only have at their home stations,” said Campbell. “We’re able to train and move to locations that will totally change the limitations that wouldn’t be imposed on our home units. For example, explosive weight limits, [radiation safety officer] qualifications, the type of terrain. The thing that I’ve taken away is that there’s accessibility to the multi-environments that we would deploy to, right here in the nation.”