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NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Sicily — In spite of their name, sailors of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 8 prefer things not to go boom.

“People have a misconception about us. We try to keep things from exploding. That’s when we’re doing our job,” said Lt. Greg Zach, the readiness and training officer of EODMU 8.

An assignment with the Sicily-based unit guarantees sailors at least one thing, they said: travel.

Detachments of usually six members of “thunderstealers” deploy throughout the European and Central commands’ area of responsibility, from frigid locations above the Arctic Circle, to the heat of the Horn of Africa and the sands of Iraq.

Of the unit’s eight detachments, four currently are deployed.

The Navy is the only service to require its EOD technicians to be certified in diving, demolition, parachuting and insertions and extractions, though the Army and Marine Corps are adding that training to their ranks, Zach said.

The specialized training makes the sailors a hot commodity, especially as the nation fights terrorism and trains militaries of friendly nations to do the same, said Cmdr. Daniel Donovan, commander of EODMU 8.

Detachments routinely are loaned to Special Operations Command Europe, which has its contingent of sailors now in Iraq working alongside Special Forces, Donovan said.

And a group of eight now is training above the Arctic Circle in Norway, honing skills from ice diving to mine countermeasures and working in extreme-weather conditions, Donovan said. More still are on the USS Emory S. Land in the Gulf of Guinea to train African nations’ militaries. Others have taught demining skills to technicians in Chad and Lebanon.

“We’ve been in 40 countries in the last two years, in Europe, Africa and the Middle East,” Donovan said.

Anyone can apply, but with an attrition rate of about 40 percent, only the cream of the crop stick around.

“It’s really the top people, the people who aren’t lazy, the people who are able to think out of the box, use common sense, think of different ways to do things,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Mayo, 26.

“We have to. We usually only get one chance,” he said, referring to the explosive side of their business.

EOD-bound sailors go through 51 weeks of rigorous training that starts with three months of dive school and includes physics, medicine, lessons of mixed gas, hyperbaric chamber operations and small-boat operations, among other areas of study.

Then it’s on to learning about ground ordnance, such as land mines, grenades and booby traps, and air ordnance, improvised explosive devices, underwater ordnance and nuclear weapons, according to a training manual.

And that’s just the basics.

They’re a group of overachievers, Mayo said.

“Every day that I come to work, something gets accomplished,” said Mayo, who recently learned the Turkish language and now is working on Italian.

Once in the EOD field, sailors tend to make the Navy their career, said Master Chief Petty Officer Stephen Boneau, the unit’s leading chief petty officer and assistant operations officer.

Boneau, 44, joined the Navy thinking he’d probably get out after four years of service. Twenty-six years later, with 20 in the EOD, he’s nowhere near ready to leave active duty, he said.

“We’re Type A personalities, very motivated, both physically and mentally,” Boneau said.


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