‘It definitely would have caused a lot of death’
Stars and Stripes June 14, 2008
Staff Sgt. Alexander Mazza insists he earned his Bronze Star during just a normal day at work.
But he acknowledged that not everyone’s day at the office requires them to disarm a dump truck packed with 2,000 pounds of explosives.
"To us, it’s just our job," the explosive ordnance disposal technician said. "We’d typically get three calls a day. Sometimes they’d be nothing, sometimes they’d be homemade explosives that were a real danger.
"Of course, we didn’t usually see anything that big."
In March, Marine Corps officials awarded Mazza the Bronze Star with "V" device for "fearlessly" completing his job that day, potentially saving hundreds of lives with just a single skillful bomb response.
The incident occurred on his second tour in Iraq. In the first, from August 2005 to March 2006, he worked with an EOD quick-response team disarming hundreds of IEDs around Haditha. His skill and success earned him a promotion to team leader for his second tour, this time based out of Camp Baharia near Fallujah. Mazza said his three-person team responded to dozens of calls over the first three months of his deployment, but the May 17 incident was the most dangerous they faced.
"We got an early call, while it was still dark, that the Iraqi Army had conducted a joint raid and found homemade explosives all over this compound," he said. "The way it was laid out, we knew we couldn’t get our robots in there, so we had to go in ourselves."
With a pair of security Marines in tow, Mazza began moving from room to room while his team explored other sections of the compound.
As he walked into the courtyard, he spun around a wall and found himself just yards from a truckload of wires, detonators and 55-gallon drums stuffed with homemade explosives.
"If (the insurgents) had gotten it into a populated area, it definitely would have caused a lot of death," he said.
Although the insurgents apparently were caught before finishing their work on the car bomb, Mazza said the ton of explosives still posed a threat to the troops nearby. He dismissed his security detail before approaching the truck and stabilizing its load.
"When we talked about it later, my (security) guys were surprised they had been standing next to that much explosive," he said.
Later sweeps of the compound found hundreds more pounds of munitions and bomb-making devices, all of which were destroyed without any harm to friendly troops, Mazza said.
Corps officials said Mazza’s team successfully disarmed and disposed of more than 11,000 pounds of explosives during their seven-month tour.
Mazza said bomb disposal is a family business. His father is a retired bomb technician, and after Mazza joined the Corps he quickly applied to follow in his footsteps.
"We’re helping our Marines first-hand in this job," he said. "For every IED we find and disarm out there, that’s one less that could have hurt our guys. So when we catch those hazards, it’s a good feeling."
Staff Sgt. Alexander Mazza
Unit: 3rd EOD platoon, II Marines Expeditionary Force
Medal: Bronze Star with "V"
Earned: May 17, 2007, near Fallujah, Iraq