There is a saying in EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) school that “the rules of the publications were written in blood”. This comes from the British bomb disposal units from World War II, who through sacrifice, trial, and error, paved the way for modern EOD. The current publications span decades, and are an expansive library of ordnance that technicians can refer to when identifying and rendering them inert.

As the Germans were bombing London during the blitz, hundreds of bombs did not detonate on impact. In some cases, they were designed to do so. Depending on the location of the bomb, they could not simply be blown up with additional explosives because it would damage infrastructure. Some bombs were buried in back yards, some stuck in the walls of buildings, and in many other areas. The bomb disposal units had no experience or manuals to assist them with dismantling these bombs. As a result, it was literally done by trial and error in the early stages of the effort.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 9.47.33 AM

A British bomb technician, always an officer, would shout his procedures to an enlisted man who was at a safe distance.

“The markings on this bomb are B-1-5.”

The enlisted man would write it down.

The IRA plotted to bomb a ferry full of people on Brexit night

Read Next: The IRA plotted to bomb a ferry full of people on Brexit night

“I am cleaning the dirt away from the fuse area.”

The enlisted man would write it down.

“I am attempting to break the lock ring loose with a hammer and chisel in order to remove the fuse.”

The enlisted man would write it down.

Boom!

That did not work. Do not repeat that step on future B15 fused bombs. The enlisted man would write it down.

Through calculated trial and error, the British would discover that the Germans had booby-trapped many of the bombs with things such as clockwork fuses that were preset to explode after a specific length of time. The British had to find ways around all of those hazards, and through the brave efforts of the men who were willing to risk everything they were able to document how to render the ordnance safe so that others could live. The life expectancy of a bomb disposal officer in World War II was about two weeks.

Currently, EOD training is conducted at a joint school for the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Although the program has been in place for decades, the curriculum is constantly evolving.  Counter-IED efforts in the last ten or so years have cost many lives as brave EOD technicians have gone down range to confront threats that they had little to no training on. It was not until 2006 that there was any real curriculum for counter-IED measures. Even as late in the war on terrorism as 2005, IED training for EOD technicians consisted mainly of letter and pipe bombs.

If you speak with any EOD technician who has deployed, they truly believe that they made a difference in reducing the amount of risk that troops had to be exposed to, even though it meant risking their own lives. There is no doubt that they did make a difference. Anyone can pick up a metal detector and go sweeping through a compound and drop a charge on an IED, but only a small amount of individuals could effectively render that ordnance inert without causing damage to infrastructure. For example, what if that IED was planted inside a water-filled pothole in the middle of a narrow mountainside road in Afghanistan that had significant strategic value? Simply blowing it up would do two things: a.) destroy the potentially only road in the area for coalition troops to pass on, b.) guarantee that another IED would be planted in the fresh, soft dirt that was just brought up so that another convoy could get hit.

Situations like the one above are one of many reasons why EOD technicians are an invaluable tool for any commander to have. It is because of their dedication to their craft, and their willingness to go downrange instead of the grunts they are patrolling alongside that countless lives have been saved. As the enemy adapts, so must the EOD technicians. The constantly evolving ordnance landscape will ensure that the publications continue to be written in the blood of a small group of brave men.