Across America, grilling season has begun in earnest for friends and families. A different type of family, however, dedicated a very special grill at an Apr. 17 cookout at Naval Support Facility Indian Head's Stump Neck Annex..
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Techs from all military branches, as well as EOD civilians who served in Iraq, may recognize the behemoth custom grill: it served as a downtime focal point at the "Alamo," part of the compound that housed Joint Task Force Troy in Baghdad.
There, the first-ever Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell (CEXC, pronounced 'sexy') assembled intelligence specialists and explosive experts in 2003 to combat the deadly threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Members of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the Technical Support Detachment of the Naval EOD Technology Division (NAVEODTECHDIV) at Stump Neck Annex, law enforcement and international allies combined efforts to share knowledge about IEDs and minimize the damage they cause.
Volumes could be written about that effort, but reminiscing about the war's big details was not the main reason personnel associated with CEXC met on the shores of the Potomac River. They met to share memories about one of the war's few pleasures.
Master Chief Logistics Specialist Sol Costin and Logistics Specialist 1st Class Jarriel Gardner received the grill from Iraq in March. The camaraderie of hanging out with like-minded friends around a fire and enjoying grilled burgers is as inviting in Maryland as it is in Baghdad, after all. EOD Techs and support personnel marveled at the grill's refurbishment, a sanding and re-painting job performed by Costin.
There are Army markings on the exceptionally heavy grill, which was fabricated out of an air compressor tank. Chimneys welded onto the top of the grill look like they came from five-ton trucks. A Stump Neck-based Navy contractor said he was at the Alamo when a machine shop for armored vehicles added a thick steel smoker box. The armored pedigree shows: the grill appeared to be literally bulletproof, even if its journey into Navy possession is not exactly clear.
"Somebody put some work into it," said Cmdr. Paco Porter, officer-in-charge of the Technical Support Detachment. "If it could talk, it could tell some stories."
The aforementioned contractor, who asked to be called only by his first name, spent six years in Iraq. "It was great as long as the food was good," said Robert, who remembered the many holiday meals cooked on the grill. "It kept morale up. It made you feel like you were in someone's back yard."
The grill was more than a spot to unwind in Baghdad; it also served as the setting of informal meetings between EOD leaders and their peers and allies. Another contractor laughed when he remembered acquiring a box of steaks in anticipation of a big meeting. By the time the meeting occurred, the steaks had disappeared. As always, ownership in a war zone is a fickle thing.
Master Sgt. Will Cameron, an Air Force EOD Tech, remembered the spirit of the Alamo. "We'd grab as much food as we could and cook it," he said. "The grill is pretty neat because of its history."
Costin provided the burgers for grill's first CONUS get-together and explained the grill's significance. All EOD Techs received training at the Alamo when they arrived in-country.
"Every EOD Tech who served in Iraq ate off this grill," he said. "Some of them did not come back."