EOD techs have mine-blowing experience in Iraq

Staff Sgt. Ryan Otero
332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron

***image1***At a dusty, bare-bones base located on the outskirts of Balad City, Iraq, three NCOs from the Kaiserslautern area are making homecoming preparations as their six-month deployment draws to a close. 

Staff Sergeants Jayson Wells and Ryan Otero of the 435th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight, along with Staff Sgt. Tom Pilla, a U.S. Air Forces in Europe Silver Flag instructor, have successfully completed more than 300 missions “outside the wire,” including more than 100 improvised explosive device responses. 

“It’s something new every day,” said Sergeant Wells. “You can go to the same spot five times in a row without much happening, and then one day there’s an ambush or a secondary device out there.”

All three are quick to point out that although the high ops tempo can leave them drained at times, the mission has been rewarding.

“In the past week, we’ve gotten rid of over a ton of explosives, including two truck bombs. It’s a good feeling when you know that you’re making a difference,” said Sergeant Pilla.

Looking back, Sergeant Wells remembers the day they were awarded the 3/8 Cavalry patch for combat service with the unit.

“If there was anything close to a typical day (in Balad City), it would have to be when we were awarded the Cav patch by our (base) commander,” he said.  “During the ceremony, the mortar team was launching rounds overhead on an IED triggerman.  We got our patches from the Sergeant Major and jumped in the truck to respond to the site.”

Sergeant Wells views the deployment as a learning experience. 

“The older guys have really taken me under their wing and taught me a lot. They just came to me one day and said that I was ready to start running teams, and the job was mine if I wanted it,” he said. “Of course, I accepted.”
They all attribute their success to the long hours and support that others have put in. “There are EOD guys at Balad that spend 16 hours on a route clearance, and when they get back they fix our equipment and pull our explosives so we can continue the mission,” Sergeant Wells said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”