Remember that scene in Lethal Weapon when Danny Clover is stuck on the toilet, ‘cuz some bad guys wired it to explode? All those bomb disposal people in bulky gear show up placing blankets and covers over things. Then they use liquid nitrogen to cool the bomb and Gibson yanks Clover into the bathtub just before the whole thing blows up, leading to a smoking toilet smashing the hood of the cop car. Air Force EOD is usually nowhere near as cool as that. And most people probably never get to meet Mel Gibson or Danny Glover.

Pity, really, because the job is dangerous, and perks like meeting movie stars would be nice…

What Is an Explosive Ordnance Technician?

Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal units do just what they say: dispose of explosive ordnance. If you’ve spent any time in the military, you have heard the term UXO. If not, rest assured it stands for unexploded ordnance. When a mortar falls but doesn’t explode, that’s a UXO. When bombs drop but one doesn’t detonate, that’s a UXO. Or, when you’re cleaning out your grandfather’s old shed and find a grenade he brought home from Korea, that is a UXO. 

An Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician
U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Staff Sgt. Scott Rice from the 673rd Civil Engineering Squadron, EOD flight, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, prepares to conduct a controlled detonation of unexploded ordnance, March 14, 2012. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Denoris Mickle/USAF)

When a convoy is traveling through Kandahar and the lead sees a strange-looking pile of garbage and wires on the curb, that is probably an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Chances are, in that convoy there are EOD technicians. Their job is to detect, disarm, and dispose of, that IED.

Air Force EOD Combat Roles

EOD technicians are likely to see combat. As enabler forces, EOD technicians embed with other units to provide EOD support and fill other roles as required by the mission. EOD technicians are not special forces operators, but do deploy with and support the SOF mission. Air Force EOD technicians are not only known for their bomb disposal skills, but for their willingness to pitch in and do whatever is needed. In this way, they act as force multipliers for smaller SOF units.

Talon EOD robot
The arm of a Talon robot grasps a mortar tail boom, which guides the ordnance through the air, during an operations check on the robot at Forward Operating Base, Azizullah, Afghanistan, May 5. The robot is used to interrogate improvised explosive devices when EOD personnel need to investigate an IED from a safe distance. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Stephen Schester/USAF)

As the War on Terror has wound down, the need for EOD technicians in the SW Asia theater of operations has dwindled. The majority of EOD work is now local.

Explosive ordnance technicians respond to munitions incidents at home stations. They sweep and clear bombing training ranges — like Nellis and Utah ranges — of UXOs and dud munitions.

Controlled Detonation
Explosive ordnance disposal technicians from the 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron conduct a controlled detonation, September 30, 2009, at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (Photo by Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal/USAF)

EOD technicians support local law enforcement agencies, which often do not have their own bomb disposal unit.