EGLIN AFB, Fla. — As the military’s demand for technicians specialized in locating and diffusing improvised bombs has increased since 9/11, so have the demands on the country’s only schoolhouse for training them.
The Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal has long outgrown its three main buildings at Eglin Air Force Base.
In 2001, the school trained about 600 students a year. That number increased steadily until 2009, when the use of improvised explosives against the United States spiked. By 2010, the number of students had surged to 1,600.
This year, the school expects to see 2,100 students.
The school had to improvise to accommodate the influx. It set up classrooms in three temporary trailers and scheduled shifts in the dining hall.
On Wednesday, to ease the strain on long-over-taxed resources, the school broke ground on a $21 million project that will add two new buildings and expand the dining hall.
“This project will deliver the best possible classroom for the 20 percent of the school currently located in temporary buildings,” Navy Capt. Joseph Polanin, the school’s commanding officer, said at the ceremony.
The Navy oversees the school, but it serves as the primary training facility for EOD technicians from all branches of the military. The vocation increased in importance as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) became the leading cause of death on the battlefield.
A new class of 25 students starts school every few days.
The new buildings will add 15 classrooms and provide state-of-the-art technology and security.
“It’s not just new walls and new floors,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rudy Schoen, the school’s executive officer.
The temporary trailers were put to use starting in 2008. Since then, they’ve encountered issues with mold and require constant maintenance.
Computer systems in the trailers have to be dismantled and locked away at the end of the day to prevent security breaches.
The new buildings will eliminate those problems.
Navy Lt. Nicholas Parker, who leads the ground instruction division, said the new buildings are not necessarily designed to accommodate more students than the school already serves. The numbers the school is training now are likely at their peak because war efforts are de-escalating.
“If anything, it will start to taper down, but we want to be prepared to handle this level of flow,” he said.