Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Lance Pounds
The 71st Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), located at Fort Carson, Colorado, hosted its largest Team of the Year competition at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Dec. 2 through 7, to evaluate the mental and physical fortitude and the technical skill of the best Soldiers its force has to offer.
At the conclusion of the competition, Fort Leonard Wood’s own Staff Sgt. Matthew Hamilton, team leader, and Sgt. Tyler Kinney, team member, from the 763rd Ordnance Company, rose above their competitors and were named 71st EOD’s Team of the Year.
Normally, the annual competition begins at the battalion level and consists of five to seven teams representing each company within a battalion. Top teams identified by the battalion-level competitions then advance to a group-level Team of the Year competition, in which the top teams from the group’s three battalions compete for the honor of representing the 71st EOD at a Department of the Army-level competition.
This year, the battalion and group-level teams were combined, because a large portion of the 71st EOD’s subordinate units are currently deployed, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Johnny Strickland, 71st EOD’s senior enlisted advisor. As a result, the 11 companies sent their best and brightest to the competition.
“Logistically, it made more sense to combine the group and battalion (teams),” Strickland said.
The overall intent of the competition, to evaluate EOD technician team leaders’ and members’ abilities in high-stress scenarios, remained unchanged; it was just conducted on a much larger scale, added Strickland.
The competition consisted of 12 events that tested competitors, both as two-person teams and as an individuals, on their ability to physically navigate harsh terrain; identify various ordnance; dislodge large-caliber artillery rounds; hoist 500-pound bombs out of the ground; detonate explosive devices in place while minimizing damage to local infrastructure; respond to and neutralize various standalone, person-borne and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (IED); employ safety measures to minimize contamination of chemical weapons; and document each piece of ordnance found for future investigation.
On Day 1 of the competition, competitors overcame the first event, which consisted of the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), a 6-mile road march in full combat gear with a 40-pound pack, and a timed route through nearly 20 stations of an obstacle course.
During Days 2 through 5, competitors rotated through the remaining 11 events.
Event 2 was an ordnance identification lane, which required teams to identify different types and parts of ordnance they found, determine the origin of those devices and how the devices were employed.
“This is our bread and butter,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Gasser, lead coordinator for the competition. “Being able to identify ordnance is imperative in our job.”
The third event was a stuck round lane, in which teams had to dislodge a large-caliber artillery round from a howitzer weapon system. The objective for this event was to remove the round in a way that caused the least amount of damage to the weapon system.
Event four was a bomb hoist lane. In this scenario, teams had to unearth a 500-pound bomb and safely relocate to a trailer for transport using a makeshift tripod hoist made from rope, pulleys and three 10-foot pieces of four-by-four wooden beams.
Gasser said it is common for local populations to discover submerged ordnance, especially in areas affected by war.
“Being able to dig up ordnance is essential to public safety,” Gasser said. “(This competition) allows us to evaluate our team’s ability to employ mechanical advantage.”
The fifth event was a protective-works lane. The scenario required teams to respond to an explosive device that was too volatile for safe transport. Teams were evaluated on their ability to conduct an in-place detonation of the device while preserving as much of the local area as possible.
Event 6 was an IED-response lane with a twist. In this scenario, the team leaders were incapacitated so team members could be assessed on how well they performed under high-stress conditions.
“Normally, (the competition) focuses on the team leaders, but in this event the spotlight is on the team members,” Gasser said.
Team members were assessed on their ability to recover their team leader, perform Tactical Combat Casualty Care and maintain control over the incident site.
The seventh event was a chemical incident lane, which evaluated a team’s ability to employ safety measures to minimize contamination of hazardous chemicals contained within certain ordnance.
“Typically, this lane is technically intense,” Gasser said.
Lane 8 was a VBIED response event. Teams were evaluated on their ability to conduct IED operations of a large-net explosive weight, according to Gasser. Teams treated the suspected vehicle as a container, which could house a large amount of explosive and cause severe damage to immediate infrastructure and populous.
“(VBIEDs) create additional obstacles for (EOD) technicians to gain access to the device,” Gasser said.
According to Gasser, an equally challenging incident is when people are used as hostages under duress of an explosive device as seen in Lane 9, the person-borne IED event. The event was designed to assess teams’ ability to keep situations calm while rendering the device safe.
“This event requires a high level of attention to detail and tests their knowledge on defeating intricate devices,” Gasser said.
The 10th event was a homemade explosives lab, which assessed teams’ knowledge of basic chemistry and the unique hazards associated with creating explosives.
“People who employ bombs for nefarious reasons, do not typically have access to military or commercial-grade explosives. Instead, they resort to manufacturing their own explosives using common household chemicals,” Gasser said.
“Oftentimes, these types of explosives are extremely sensitive, volatile, and may even spontaneously detonate on their own accord,” Gasser added.
The 11th event was an assessment of teams’ ability to accurately complete a technical intelligence report.
“There are countries that are constantly creating new ordnance. It is an EOD technician’s job to identify devices and create a comprehensive report on the ordnance they find,” Gasser said.
This required teams to measure, photograph and collect as much information about the device as possible. Technical intelligence reports are vital to understanding the employment and destructive capabilities of first-seen ordnance.
The final event was a closed-book written evaluation that assessed teams’ abilities to recall EOD safety precautions and procedures.
Each event of the competition was evaluated on a point system, and points were combined to choose the winning team. The competition highlighted the team that demonstrated the total Soldier concept and an overall competency of EOD tasks.
“The chief of staff of the Army’s No. 1 priority is Readiness. The Group Team of the Year sends a message to everybody that we are the most competent, most capable and most ready team to face any challenge that could come our way,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David Silva, 79th Ordnance Battalion command sergeant major.
“Conventional, improvised, you name it … Our Soldiers are ready,” he added.
(Editor’s note: Pounds is with the 71st Ordnance Group (EOD), Public Affairs Officer.)