EOD safety day: a strategic pause

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Christopher Diaz
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It was news no father wants to hear. Under different circumstances he would have bolted out the door. But stuck two time zones away with thousands of miles between him and his family, there was no way he would make it in time.

This was the reality Tech. Sgt Thomas Galetto faced after finding out his first-born child required an emergency operation just days after premature birth.

"He had to go into emergency surgery at three days old," said the NCOIC of Explosive Ordnance Disposal equipment for the 886th Civil Engineer Squadron."I was TDY and couldn't make it back in time because the doctors said they needed to do it right away."

Time away from family is one of the many harsh realities Sergeant Galetto deals with as part of his service, but he is definitely not alone. Every day, fellow EOD Airmen are making the same kinds of sacrifices while supporting the war on terrorism.

EOD Airmen are in one of several Air Force career fields battling manning shortages, high deployment tempos and a dangerous combat environment downrange.

"Our Civil Engineer EOD Airmen continue to conduct operations in a dynamic and ever-changing combat environment," said Lt. Gen. Stephen Mueller, U.S. Air Forces in Europe vice commander, in a recent letter. "The toll on the EOD career field has been significant."

Since 2005, the career field as a whole has lost 13 Airmen in combat operations. An additional eight have been seriously injured, losing a limb or more, and over 70 Airmen have received one or more purple hearts.

Senior Air Force EOD leadership noticed, and called for a career-field wide safety day to focus on tactics, techniques and procedures; and to examine the "health" of the career field in general. Ramstein EOD Airmen held theirs Nov. 22.

"My desire is by EOD flights taking a strategic pause, they can help prevent future loss of life and limb," said General Mueller. "This EOD safety day is part of the larger Airmen Resiliency effort to take care of our Airmen and their families."

EOD Airmen at Ramstein aren't surprised by the numbers, though grateful not to be included among them. Their medal count reads like a scorecard. Over the past few years, the flight has garnered approximately 60 decorations, ranging from purple hearts to combat action badges.

Of the EOD Airmen assigned here, half are currently deployed.

"Manning is rough across the board," said Sergeant Galetto, a California native. "With constant deployments, training and TDYs, it's tough keeping up with how fast our guys have to move around."

Air Force wide, EOD is currently just under 75 percent manned, with specific challenges at the "team leader" level. EOD team leaders face a one to one deployment ratio, with the rest of the career field in enabler status.

"Three years ago, it felt like nobody cared. But more and more I've seen change toward greater support in all aspects," Sergeant Galetto said. "From equipment, to pay, the actual deployments themselves, TDYs, (life) at the home station -- it's getting better."

To help with manning and deployment issues, additional authorizations have been made over the last two years.

"Senior leaders are listening to the guys in the field for what we need. You can tell that at the top that they really do care," Sergeant Galetto said. "We're definitely moving in the direction of easing the burden on our guys."

"Combat Battlefield Ready Airman" training is a pre-deployment training initiative that more efficiently prepares Air Force EOD Airmen. The training assists by establishing EOD teams before they are tasked to operate together downrange, vital to a team's success.

"CoBRA is great," the sergeant said. "We used to have to go to different locations with different people and different standards. Now we make sure that rotations go to the same [CoBRA] class, we get to figure out who works best together so we can build a good team."

When Sergeant Galetto joined the Air Force, EOD was his first choice - but he didn't know all of the current challenges to come later down the road. After 12 years of service and six combat deployments, he admires the new Airmen entering the career field, as their case is different.

"They joined EOD knowing what was in store for them," Sergeant Gelatto said. "They joined because they want to do this, they want to be downrange. You've never seen anyone more energetic and ready to go."