“Bomber Versus Bomber”

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John Moore / Getty Images

A U.S. Army bomb squad dispatches a robot to disarm an IED in Baghdad in 2005.

Army Major Miguel Torres spent two tours in Iraq – 2003-2004, and 2007-2008 — doing one of the most important missions there: disabling roadside bombs. You know something is becoming a major problem for the U.S. military when they give it a new name, and once roadside bombs became the single-biggest killer of U.S. troops in Iraq, they morphed into improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

IEDs have killed thousands of U.S. troops since 9/11, and the Pentagon has spent $58 billion trying to defeat or protect troops from them. Torres was at the tip of that spear as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal – EOD — officer. In this June interview with the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he talked about what he did. Highlights:

EOD stands for explosive ordnance disposal. The easiest term will be the Army’s bomb squads. With the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the number one weapon of choice of the enemy and after the movie Hurt Locker, we are known as the Soldiers who take care — render safe and/or dispose — of IEDs.
This is just one little part of our job. In our MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] we learn in detail the fusing mechanisms and functioning of US and foreign ordnance from grenades to guided bombs and missiles. In addition, we learn to work with conventional, biological, chemical and nuclear ammunitions.
One of our proficiencies is being a subject matter expert in all types of ordnance.  Another part of our job is to provide technical intelligence of first seen ordnance. In a garrison environment, we support the local authorities. For example, if the local authorities — police, fire department — don’t have a bomb squad, we can support them. In addition, we provide support for the protection of the POTUS, VPOTUS, and other dignitaries.
The incident responses increased, keeping the guys outside the wire a lot more than in Baghdad. We — the commander, first sergeant, and the operations NCO — had to monitor their rest time or down time to ensure that we did not run the teams to the ground.
We learned to give them opportunities, “Okay, how can I have the guys download because we knew that they were going out every day and they were risking their life.”
Sometimes it was 0300 when we had the first call, that team would probably go out and stay out the whole day until 2200 or 2300 risking their life. That day could end up with 10 incidents or more…
It’s really easy to become complacent because you start growing your ego and you start thinking, “You — the enemy — can’t kill me.”
…A day would start with getting a call from a unit that located or think they found an IED on the road. Sometimes it was a unit that got hit by an IED. The EOD Team would go out, assess the situation, render safe or dispose of the IED and finally clear the area for the convoy to continue their mission.
The procedure was for the units to stop, back up, pull security, and let EOD come in to take care of the IED. That’s what we encouraged in our IED awareness classes too; “Don’t go there and try to probe or poke trying to figure out if it is an IED.” We didn’t want that…
The pressure was there but you have to make the final call and prioritize when you have limited resources. At the same time everyone in the unit was motivated to do their job and to help; more than anything it was helping others.  Every time we went out there and we got rid of an IEDs it meant four or five Soldiers will go home safe. That’s why it was so significant.
“We’re going to be tired. There are going to be hours upon hours of work but we’re saving lives in the form of defusing IEDs.”
…It was one of the biggest challenges: how to manage the personnel we had without getting combat fatigue. We constantly monitored the teams to ensure they were getting enough rest.
We changed teams from areas that had few incidents to give a break to those teams in areas with increased incidents. It was essential to give the Team Leaders sometime off so they could relax and clear their minds of several thoughts, to include, “Is this going to be the IED that I can’t defeat?”
This is what we call, “bomber versus bomber.” The bomber – enemy — is trying to kill me. I’m the bomb expert trying to defeat his device.
…I noticed it on the Team Leaders when they defeated another device and they were like, “You can’t get me.” …