Local explosive experts tackle stress with EOD Safety Day

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 21st Space Wing's Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight took one day, Nov. 20, to pause operations and reflect on safety.

The 21st Civil Engineer Squadron EOD team talked about stress management, the signs and symptoms of stress and how to work through emotional stress. EOD teams are among the most deployed Airmen in one of the most dangerous jobs in the military. They have been heavily tasked throughout Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, taking apart and disarming bombs, said Gen. Tim Byers, Air Force civil engineer.

"Until the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan can build such a capability, EOD will be called on," he said in a video message to Air Force EOD teams.

This was the second year the Air Force had an EOD Safety Day, time set aside to review procedures and lessons learned from incidents where EOD Airmen were killed or wounded in action. Since 2005, nine EOD Airmen have lost their lives in action.

The EOD flight is trained to identify, locate and dispose of improvised, conventional, nuclear and biological weapons, whether they are a terrorist device or manufactured by another nation. This past rotation for EOD was the worst in eight years with five members wounded in action and one Airman killed in action.

Chaplain (Capt.) Joseph Watson, 21st SW Protestant chaplain, encouraged the EOD team to seek help if they need it. If the oxygen mask comes down during a turbulent flight, a person would take it, he said.

"Recognize that everyone has stress," he told the team. "If you don't do anything about it, it catches up to you."

Mental health professionals also were among invited guests at the EOD safety day, which allowed EOD Airmen to learn more about services available to them. This year, the Air Force is focused on family through its Year of the Air Force Family campaign. Lives lost are difficult on families -- "both the affected families and the families preparing for members to deploy," General Byers said. He said the Air Force is working to improve services for Airmen and their families, before they deploy and when they come home. Across the Air Force, a group of professionals will work with the Air Force Surgeon General to look for new ways to help ease transitions to and from deployments, he said.

Master Sgt. Harold Singleton, 21st CES EOD flight superintendent, said that after last year's EOD safety day, Airmen asked for it again.

"We had incredible feedback to expand it - to get more information to handle stresses," Sergeant Singleton said. "It's beneficial; there is a need for this."

Sergeant Singleton said he hoped Peterson's EOD flight used the day to reflect on safety with attention to how fatigue and complacency contribute to making snap, or bad, decisions in the field.

"I hope there was a deep sense of self reflection on choices," Sergeant Singleton said. "Because, this job is about choices - that they choose to adhere to basic safety guidelines and understand complacency when they see it."