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Competition disarming at Fort A.P. Hill

There is no telling how long the chemical round has been in the ground, but it’s there, unexploded, and it could be leaking.

Each member of the three-soldier team—from the Florida Army National Guard’s 221st Ordnance Company—is fully covered to minimize potential exposure to the leaking chemicals.

It’s impossible to tell who is behind the camouflage and gas mask as one faceless figure directs while the other two prep a staging area with shovels and canisters.

It doesn’t matter that the canisters are filled with water, because treating this scenario as anything less than dangerous could mean losing points.

Five explosive ordnance disposal teams—soldiers trained to neutralize unexploded mines, artillery rounds and other explosives—came together for the first EOD Team of the Year competition at the McMahon EOD Training Center on Fort A.P. Hill.

The four-day competition involved evaluations of the teams’ fitness, marksmanship and ability to defuse explosive scenarios as safely as possible.

Representative ordnance groups and companies traveled from as far as Hawaii or as close as Aberdeen, Md., to compete for the title.

To test their practical abilities, teams were provided with a series of scenarios ranging from the unexploded chemical round to an artillery round stuck in the gun. Each scenario required a particular set of safety procedures from teams.

Though the scoring rubric was kept secret to ensure academic honesty, personnel overseeing the competition offered insight into why EOD teams would be needed for some scenarios.

Master Sgt. John Stricklett, from the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command out of Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, said that EOD teams could be called in to remove a stuck artillery round if initial retrieval methods didn’t work.

“When they fire a lot of rounds really fast, the tubes [of the gun] get fouled, and then a round gets stuck,” said Stricklett. “They’ll try to unstick the round, but their priority is to preserve the gun for future use.”

Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Clow, who is posted at the McMahon complex, said the competition had existed prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, but had been stalled since then to concentrate on real combat.

With the lessened U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Clow said there was finally time to bring back the event.

“It’s taken a while to get it back,” he said, “but most EOD units have been so busy deploying that they haven’t had the time to train up for something like that.”

That, he said, was the most important part: Units needed to train for the various scenarios the competition provided, which were broadly ranged to test situational and procedural know-how.

EOD teams had to account for a variety of factors, including the materials necessary for safe retrieval or removal and the possibility for collateral damage.

It’s evident in the way the 25th Chemical Company from Aberdeen handles the stuck artillery round scenario. Once they’ve completed their preparations, a soldier calls out, “Fire in the hole!”

The whimper—not bang—that follows means they’ve done their job.

Dawnthea Price: 540/374-5403

dprice@freelancestar.com

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