I interviewed Paul, who was an EOD with the Air Force. He dismantled IEDs (home-made bombs), blew stuff up, protected the President, completed top secret missions, and kept people safe. Below is his story.
When Claire was just a little baby, she was in foster care for three and a half months. After we adopted Claire, we became great friends with her foster family, and still have a relationship with them to this day. One of their sons, Paul, was already in the Air Force at the time of Claire’s adoption, working as an EOD Technician. (EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal.) Claire’s foster mom Robin would often email me and request prayer for Paul, because he was often in very dangerous situations. I am finally interviewing Paul to figure out exactly what he did for a living. Paul is now retired from the Air Force (even though he’s fairly young) and I had the opportunity to do a Skype interview with him.
First of all Paul, tell us about your job?
EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal, basically disarming anything that was ever created since the beginning of time from any country, whether chemical weapon, biological weapon, nuclear weapon, hand grenades, or IEDs. We deal with them all. And then, where appropriate, detonating the bomb. We deal with anything that goes boom or zoom. We also do range clearances and also Secret Service detail for the President.
(quick research note: according to Airforce.com, an EOD Tech is “trained to detect, disarm, detonate, and dispose of explosive threats all over the world…assigned to some of the most dangerous missions. They do what needs to be done to keep others safe.”)
Why did you choose to go into EOD?
I wanted something more, and that was definitely it. If you google the most dangerous job in the military across all the branches, it’s number one. We all go to the same school — the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army — we all attend an EOD School on an Air Force base in Florida that’s run by the Navy, but all of us are in the exact same school, even mixed in the same class. I went in for the action, the adventure, and to blow stuff up. What little boy doesn’t love that?
What was training like?
Training was very difficult. We started with 100 people and we graduated with 7. EOD has an extremely high wash-out rate. You have to be able to do a very high-intensity job with zero errors. And you have to be able to do it in a 90 pound bomb suit when it’s 115 degrees outside. You have to be able to function well while you are exhausted. All of our studying was done through books and publications. All the studying had to be done at the classroom for up to fourteen, fifteen hours a day. Because it’s classified, you couldn’t bring anything home. And you do that for nine months straight, and that’s just for the basic course. You will continue years of additional school and a lifetime of training.
Are there any women that go into EOD?
Yes, there are. A lot of women don’t make it through the pull-up part of the test. But there are females that do it and many of them are actually really good bomb techs.
How long were your deployments?
Six months to a year for a deployment. Some don’t deploy for awhile and some deploy back to back. I left Iraq because Bush told us we were pulling troops out of Iraq and everyone cheered, but then I got shipped straight to Afghanistan.
What do you actually do in the field? Sounds like you dismantle bombs and then blow things up?
Yes, we try to disarm them first, where they are at. Usually, the bomb is in a bad spot, we disarm it enough to where it’s safe for transport and then we bring it out to the middle of nowhere and dispose of it. We blow it up. We try to get the intel part we can keep first. We also do range clearances, which is essentially where we clean up bombs that don’t go off at military training sites, especially in Nevada. We also dispose of things for the Military (by explosives).
Have you ever disarmed a bomb that you weren’t quite sure how to properly disarm?
Yeah, all of them, kinda. A bomb that is dropped from an aircraft, all are pretty much the same and there are publications and books to deal with this, step-by-step. With an IED (which stands for an Improvised Explosive Device), which is a home-made bomb, it’s different, as they are all slightly different. But that’s the challenge – to figure it out. That’s why I like it so much. How does it function? How does it work? And then figure out the safe way to disarm it.
Were you afraid to die?
For me — the reality of what just happened or what you just had to do never really hits me until after. Even afterwards, when you are heading back to camp, you are still on the “mission high” and you really don’t think about all the “what ifs” and what could go wrong. Thinking about ANYTHING else but the problem in front of you will get you killed.
Where did you serve?
Texas, Mississippi, Colorado, Florida, Europe, California, Nevada, then deployments: Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places (top secret).
Tell us about your Presidential Detail?
We are the bomb squad for the President, so wherever he goes, we go. We get there long before he does. We also provide service detail for Foreign dignitaries, First Ladies, Vice Presidents, U.N. Counsels, anything where there will be big people at, where there could be a threat, we work with that. I was face to face with President Obama once; we both nodded at each other.
Tell me about a typical mission?
When you are deployed, you get a call, most of the time it’s a group, maybe a convoy somewhere, that came across an IED and they set up a safety circle and evacuate everyone out of that area. And they call us and say, “hey, we need an EOD for an IED.” At that point, we either convoy or fly out to that location. We also bring a whole security convoy. We go out to the location and deal with it.
Tell me about one of your more memorable missions?
That’s a hard one. There are so many and I don’t know how to categorize. There are some missions that you will never forget; they leave a scar on your heart. There are some where you get a good feeling. For example, once we took an IED out of a school. They try to blow up their own schools with their own kids in them. Another time, there was a magnetic IED that was stuck to the side of a fuel tanker. In front of hundreds of other fuel tankers, all side by side. Had that gone wrong…
Most dangerous mission?
Night missions are always some of the most challenging and dangerous missions. But a lot of work is done under the cover of darkness, at night. Other dangerous missions are when you are going after the bomb maker; their homes are well guarded by the products they make. But I have to say that the most dangerous missions I did as an EOD Tech are the ones we are not allowed to talk about.
Your mom told me that she prayed constantly for you. Was there a time where you know for sure your mom’s prayers for your safety were answered?
Yes, there were at least three times that I remember. First, before I was an EOD I was a Firefighter in the military. One night we got called to a building to put out a fire. The building had ammunition in it which we had no idea about. While I was in the building the ammunition started going off, so I was immediately pulled out of the fire. When I got out they checked my jacket and sure enough, there was a bullet lodged in my jacket, through my clothing, but somehow, miraculously, had not penetrated my final layer of clothing — it hadn’t pierced through my chest. However, my jacket did end up with so many holes in the front and back that I had to replace the jacket the next day. Come to find out, my mom had been up all night, unable to sleep, with a huge burden on her heart to pray for me. Everytime she’d fall asleep, the Lord would wake her up again to pray for me.
Another time I was in Iraq and was afforded the opportunity to Skype with my mother. During the Skype call we had a rocket attack. One of the rockets exploded close to the area I was in. The “wood building” I was inside (that was really more of a shack), had sustained massive damage. I was blown to the floor and the shack was full of holes going in one side and out the other. I got up, a bit shocked with ears ringing and a massive headache, but I was alive with no real injuries. The moment the rocket hit, all Internet was killed. The last thing my mother heard was the sirens warning of incoming rocket attack, and then everything went black. A few days later I went back to that same shack; it was closed off due to damages but I went inside anyway. I sat there scratching my head asking myself over and over again: “How did none of that hit me?” There is no way I should’ve survived that. Come to find out, my mom had been praying.
Lastly, one time we went out on a post-blast analysis, after there’s been an explosion somewhere. We go out there and determine what type of explosive was used, how it was detonated, are there any more, gather intel, look for patterns, and make the area safe for other personnel to get in and do their job. The enemy knows this and will sometimes use that to lure us into a trap. The enemy waits for us to arrive because they want to take us (the EOD) out because we are a high-value target to them. There were a couple of times when I got to the scene that I got this weird feeling — the hair on the back of my neck stood up; it didn’t feel right. To this day I can’t tell you what it was that was “off.” But it’s listening to that inner voice, not just hearing it, but doing something about it, is what keeps you alive. I had great fellow EOD team members with me whom I also trusted with my life. When they didn’t like the way something was being done, or had a bad feeling about something, we would switch things up. We wanted to keep the enemy constantly guessing at what we would do next. I know my mom’s prayers were heard and answered on some of these particular missions as well.
What did you love about your job?
I love traveling. I love blowing things up. It’s a lot of fun, like fireworks, but so much better; you are so close it just rocks your world. And then seeing the dust and everything flying up around you. I also enjoy the camaraderie. I used to be a Firefighter in the military– EOD is similar to that but even stronger. And you truly made a difference. When someone steps on an IED on the ground, if there is one IED, there will be more, it’s like a land mine. You gotta run to the front, sweep up, but that guy is screaming and you have to get to him. To make a difference and do all of that, it’s a gratifying feeling.
I absolutely loved my job and I miss it. I wish I could still do it.
Even though it was so much pressure, stress and danger?
Absolutely. They only want people in this career field who absolutely love it. If you ever decide that EOD is not the job for you, they will immediately cross train you into another position in the military. Again, they only want people who love their job. And you have to be of the right mind to work in this job. If your wife just left you, they will pull you off the field, so you don’t make a mistake. Everyone you’re working with loves their job and wants to do well at their jobs. Plus you get extra money for it.
What is the mortality rate of an EOD? It seems pretty high.
I don’t know. I know the injury rate is really high. I know for our class we started with 100, we graduated seven (the rest washed out). Of those seven, three are now dead. And two of us are out. There are other ones that keep working longer. The EOD motto of “Initial Success or Total Failure” could not be more true.
Was the movie The Hurt Locker an accurate portrayal of the life of an EOD?
The movie is great for showing you an idea of what we do while deployed and a rough idea of what the life of an EOD Tech is like. However, this is a lot of Hollywood added.
What did you dislike about your job?
I had some long deployments. I was never married, so it was a lot easier for me, but that’s why I never married. I chose not to because of that. There was a woman I was dating, she was in the military, she said she would refuse to date me if I went EOD, because she had lost too many friends who were EOD. She said she wasn’t going to lose a husband. I can respect that.
Why did you stop working?
I was medically retired early from the military, due to injuries sustained while I was deployed, mostly due to TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). Some of it was due to explosions, being too close, things that hit me in the head, anything and everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, did. I had 19 TBI concussions and 13 knock-outs. So I had to retire.
What is the number one piece of advice to give anyone going into EOD?
First is, you gotta know you want it. Because when you’re sitting there in school, for hours and hours, and you’ve been studying your brains out and chugging five hour energy to stay awake, you have to know you really want it. But it’s very rewarding. It’s a brotherhood much like the Fire Department but stronger and tighter. That leads to my second point, you cannot do this job without your team. You have to work as a team — period. And you’ll be deployed a lot which is really hard on families. EOD stands for “Every-One’s-Divorced,” — due to the amount and length of deployments.
What are you doing now?
I am converting a Mercedes Sprinter Van into a custom RV so I can travel the country. I’ve cut out a lot of people in my life that just waste my time. I want to spend my life with, and my time with, the people I love. So right now that’s my girlfriend, and her son. I’m working on getting my health back. You only have so much time, so I want to spend it with the people I love.
Has it been an easy or hard transition?
It’s actually weird and difficult. I joined the military right out of high school, and I was always told what to do. So now I still feel like that kid right out of high school again. I don’t know where I want to go or what I want to do. I have the financial means and the time, which is even better, but at the same time I’m like “I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to go.” And also, the civilian world is different. There is less of that sense of camaraderie and brotherhood.
Describe your EOD job in one sentence?
It was a blast!
A quick note from Heather: Sadly, most EODs end up six feet under. Maybe not most, but many. That fact that Paul survived is a small miracle. I credit that both to Paul being an outstanding EOD Tech, but also to Robin, Paul’s mom, who prayed for him constantly. It really is true that when it’s your time, it’s your time. And when it’s not, it’s not. Grateful that Paul is still with us to share these stories! And….I hope he gets married someday because he’s a great guy! I’m glad he’s part of our extended family and we wish him the best as he gets to have a second chance at the rest of his life!
To watch a video of Paul blowing stuff up, click here: