A time to reflect: EOD technicians speak after memorial weekend

Every year, on the first Saturday in May, U.S. Explosive Ordnance Disposal service members around the world honor the fallen. A memorial ceremony is held to commemorate EOD technicians lost in the line of duty. Participants recognize and preserve the legacy, service and sacrifices of warriors and their families.

At the 51st annual EOD Memorial Ceremony, distinguished speakers and honor guard members gathered at the EOD Memorial Wall at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and solemnly honored the fallen before an online audience. This year’s ceremony was held virtually due to coronavirus disease 2019 precautions.

Ramstein’s 786th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD members took part in remembering and toasting the fallen on the memorial weekend.

“It is important to remember the men and women who served before me,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Emilio Solis, 786th CES Explosive Ordnance Disposal Craftsman. “That’s why I watch or attend the memorial each year.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Long, 786th Civil Engineer Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of explosive ordnance disposal operations, wears a Med-Eng EOD 9 Bomb Suit while holding a simulated unexploded ordnance at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 6, 2020. EOD service members operate in austere and hazardous environments to neutralize explosive threats and protect others. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Elizabeth Baker)

Solis joined EOD to help save lives, he said. Being able to respond to and neutralize dangerous items that may harm service members or the public keeps him motivated.

Working in a high-stakes career field tends to encourage fraternity between service members. When one member is lost, others around the world feel it.

“We make it a huge event each year where EOD techs from each service come together to toast our fallen and see old friends,” Solis said. “It strengthens our bond as a community.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Long, 786th CES EOD team leader and noncommissioned officer in charge of EOD operations, agrees.

“This (memorial) weekend is about the collective sacrifice made by every tech from every branch of service,” Long said. “This weekend allows the entire EOD community to come together and reflect on the courage and dedication to each other and to honor the techs who didn’t make it home.”

The joint EOD motto is “We Remember,” drawing on the dedication of service members across every branch. Personnel remember more than those lost in the line of duty, though, as suicide also affects the community.

“This year I specifically celebrated the life of Cadet Joseph Thornton, along with the EOD warriors from all branches that made the ultimate sacrifice,” Long said. “Joe and I went through basic training and EOD school together. He tragically took his own life just a month before graduating from the Air Force Academy as an Officer.”

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Justin P. Beasley, 786th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team leader, stands for a photo at Ramstein Air Base, May 6. EOD service members rely on each other for survival and teamwork as they neutralize explosive threats.

When Long joined EOD he didn’t realize how difficult training would be or that operational requirements were even more demanding. Yet, from the moment he graduated, he knew he’d joined the right family — one dedicated to excellence and protecting others.

“That’s what keeps me motivated,” Long said, “always knowing that I have someone to depend on when someone else is depending on me.”

Long encourages service members to reach out to anyone who needs help.

“If you’re feeling alone there is always someone to talk to and someone who cares about you. I think the EOD memorial weekend is a shining example of how people can always come together and rely on each other to overcome even the toughest times,” Long said.

According to Tech. Sgt. Justin P. Beasley, 786th CES EOD team leader, commemoration is critical.

“It’s important to observe the weekend every year so that we don’t forget what has happened to those before us,” Beasley said. “It is also a time for our community to get together and bond over past experiences.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Emilio Solis, 786th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal craftsman, holds a simulated unexploded ordinance at Ramstein Air Base, May 6. Every year, on the first Saturday in May, Solis and EOD technicians from every branch of service come together to toast the fallen and strengthen their bond as a community.

Like Long, Beasley joined EOD without fully understanding what it would mean and found a second family through it.

“The bonds we have with each other are extremely important,” Beasley said. “You look at that person beside you and rely on them to protect your life. This job allows me to provide a certain peace of mind for everyone in the world. As EOD, we risk our lives to protect others from the destructive power of explosives.”

Beasley stays motivated knowing that he is training and preparing the best EOD technicians in the Department of Defense.

As they remember the past, EOD service members rely on the trust and bond they have with each other while they risk their lives to protect each other and those in the present.