Fort Carson marks company's return without harm
Chris Chesla embraces his children Christian, 3, and Taylor, 4, during a homecoming ceremony March 31, 2014, for 44 Fort Carson Soldiers of the 663rd Ordnance Company, 242nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group at the Special Events Center at Fort Carson, Colo.
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Despite firefights, bombs, mortar attacks and hundreds of missions to render explosives safe, Fort Carson's 663rd Ordnance Company came home March 31.
All 44 of them, without so much as a Band-Aid.
The bomb-disposal troops spent nine months patrolling a massive swath of Afghanistan that ran from the capital city of Kabul to Jalalabad near the famed Khyber Pass.
"They deployed with 44 soldiers and came home with 44," said Col. Bill McDonough, who command's the 71st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group, which includes the company.
Companies like the 663rd are divided into small teams as soon as they hit Afghanistan, with small detachments of troops who work with local commanders to deal with bombs.
The 44 Fort Carson soldiers were spread between as many as nine bases in Afghanistan and spent much of their time as trainers for the Afghan military, who will take over the job fully when U.S. troops depart Dec. 31.
Bomb-disposal troops have gained prominence in the past 13 years of war. Their skills are crucial on a battlefield where insurgents have turned to roadside bombs and other improvised explosives as their weapon of choice.
While the Fort Carson company came through its deployment unscathed, it wasn't safe.
Its soldiers faced nine firefights and more than 400 missions.
"It's still a dangerous environment," said Capt. Clay Kirkpatrick, the company's commander.
But Afghan troops were handling much of the toughest work. The Afghan Army has established a school for bomb technicians and is working to clear unexploded ordnance from the Texas-sized country.
"We weren't the first ones to get called," the company's 1st Sgt. David Grotkin said.
Kirkpatrick said the Afghan bomb technicians are learning quickly.
The Afghan bomb technicians were long known in lore for testing unexploded roadside bombs with a swift kick.
Now they're handling more than 75 percent of the bomb calls, the captain said.
Grotkin said the Afghans' growing expertise is partially due to Fort Carson troops sharing the tricks of the trade.
"My guys did awesome," he said.
Kirkpatrick said he's not thinking about the end of the Afghan War.
"I don't like to say it's the last time for anything, ever," he said.
But the bomb troops are thankful for a deployment that saw all the troops come home.
"I have been on multiple deployments, and on some of those we were so fortunate," Grotkin said.
"It's amazing - 400 missions, nine firefights and not even a scratch."