MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, Calif. -- What do 65 bombs and almost 30,000 pounds of Unexploded Explosive Ordnance represent? A banner year for the Combat Center's Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit.
With less training going on because of fleet participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom, MCAGCC EOD Marines are taking the opportunity to "clean house" until Combined Arms Exercises and other annual exercises resume aboard the Combat Center. With greater access to training areas, EOD's 2003 findings almost tripled their annual average of bombs and UXO destroyed .
"Some of the reasons we are having a banner year is related to easier access to the ranges," said Maj. Arthur Martin, officer-in-charge, EOD, Headquarters Battalion. "Another is the fact that I have highly motivated EOD Technicians that are willing to go the extra mile."
Actually, an extra several hundred miles in comparison to other Marine Corps bases. The Combat Center's 932 square miles provide the largest geographical area for training in the Marine Corps. All but seven square miles of the Combat Center belong to the training area. Marine Corps bases, such as Camp Pendleton, Calif., Quantico, Va., Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Marine Corps Logistics Base, Barstow, Calif., combined, can fit into the Combat Center's training area.
"The colonel is always saying two-thirds of the Marine Corps' total allocation for training ammunition is expended here at Twentynine Palms," said Martin.
According to Martin, in fiscal year 2001, a total of 28 bombs and 17,000 pounds of UXOwere destroyed. In fiscal year 2002, 15 bombs and 10,000 pounds of UXOwere destroyed.
"If we get all our sweeps in for the rest of the year, I am pretty confident it will be one of, if not the biggest year ever, [for destroying explosives]," said Martin.
EOD is not an easy field for a Marine to get into, according to Staff Sgt. Dennis Williams, training and administrative staff non-commissioned officer, EOD. Marines picked to hold one of the 300 total spots available in the EOD field must fit multiple requirements and go through extensive training.
Some, but not all, requirements include, a 110 General Technical Aptitude Test score, perfect color vision, security clearance qualified and no admitted use to mind-altering drugs. According to Williams and Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Triplett, EOD technician, Marine Corps occupational field sponsors seek Corporals or higher to join EOD, unlike the other services.
"Because we want mature, responsible individuals," explained Triplett. "That's why we require a candidate to be at least a corporal, to see how the Marine has performed over the course of his career."
"Like being at any joint service school, the Marines always want to be the best, so the Marines expect more from their EOD recruits in school," said Williams. "The Army and other branches take their service members straight out of boot camp and put them in the EOD school. Since our average student is an NCO, our attrition rate is a lot better (lower) than the other services'."
Williams also attributes their low attrition rate to the willingness of the Marines.
"Everyone wants to be here," explained Williams. "It's not a field you come straight into. You can't just go to your career planner or recruiter and say 'I want to be an EOD tech.' You have to want it and strive for it."
Another plus from choosing higher-ranking Marines, according to Williams, is the fact they get a better variety of people with different experiences.
"The good thing about the EOD field is we have people coming from all walks of life and different MOS's," explained Williams. "One may be a specialist in one field and one may be a specialist in another field, and they work off each other."
According to Triplett, while at their Navy-run seven-month school aboard Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., EOD students learn everything about explosive ordnance, from pipe bombs to nuclear weapons and how to render them safe-and/or dispose of them.
"Students apply principles of physics in the first division of school, build explosive shots, observe safeties, identify ordnance- and utilize, set-up and build EOD-specific tools," said Williams.
According to Williams, the Combat Center's training grounds provide as much training for EOD techs as it does for CAX participants.
"Working here gives you a vast range in knowledge of all the different types of ordnance that America has," said Williams. "You learn by repetition. When you work here you start seeing all different types of explosive ordnance every day and learn them like the back of your hand."
The Combat Center EOD shop is small, like its field, but full of its own tradition.
"EOD techs are all going to be together at one time or another," said Williams. "It's a real tight community. You could call it a family."
The safety of the Combat Center training areas are provided by the Marines that comb the sand, rock and dry lava beds, three days a week, looking for and disposing of UXO- With their assistance, service members from the United States and allied countries can safely learn the trade of combined arms.