"This is it, the final step before we deploy," said Navy Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Richard Bledsoe. "All of the training we have received over the past six months has led up to this exercise."
Bledsoe is the leading chief petty officer for Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division's (NAVEODTECHDIV) Technical Support Detachment-Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell (CEXC) Platoon Three. Along with his officer-in-charge, Lt.j.g. Mark Hyatt, Bledsoe recently led his platoon through a final five-day Field Training Exercise (FTX) at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va.
"This FTX is our chance to put all the skills we have learned over our training cycle to the test," Hyatt explained. "This has been very different from any other EOD-specific training I have received in the past, but a lot of it has to do with our particular mission."
NAVEODTECHDIV is a unique support activity administered by the U.S. Navy that develops and provides explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) information, tools and equipment for use by all military branches to meet the needs of EOD operating forces world-wide.
Housed within NAVEOD TECHDIV is the Technical Support Detachment (TSD) made up of a wide range of Sailors, all with different skills whose mission is to deploy or support deployment of the Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell (CEXC). CEXC platoons deploy throughout the world and are comprised of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians (EOD), Intelligence Specialists (IS), Construction Mechanics (CM), and Mass Communication Specialists (MC).
"CEXC is the 'CSI' of explosive ordnance disposal," said Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Devon Bryan. "During our training we learned about proper collection of latent fingerprints and DNA collection, tactical questioning, and advanced electrical engineering techniques used in improvised explosive devices (IEDs). We were also taught how to collect, properly handle and analyze unknown substances."
"Our mission here at 'TECHDIV in support of CEXC labs is known as SSE, or sensitive site exploitation," said Chief Explosive Ordnance Technician Kelly Davis. "When we are on target, we round up any evidence that might have forensic value and process it to gather biometric data to link specific people to specific events with total certainty. This process has proven to be very successful at putting bad guys behind bars."
"It is our job to prepare our platoons and make sure they are ready for any operational requirements they may encounter," stated TSD Readiness and Training (R&T) Leading Chief Petty Officer, Senior Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician David Prasek. "These guys learn a brand new mission not typical to any EOD platoon they have worked on before."
Davis continued to explain that the Technical Support Detachment lives by three major tenets: investigate the scene, attack the network, and exploit the device. "Almost anything at a scene can be used to help these goals and further our understanding of terrorists," he said. "Documents can be translated, unknown substances can be collected and analyzed, cell phones can be hacked, weapons can be dissected, and people can be questioned."
"Say we go to a site and find fingerprints on an IED; we can take those prints and process them through a database to match them to other prints found on other devices. In doing so we forensically link devices to their builders," explained Bledsoe.
"And it is not just fingerprints," Bryan added. "By looking at the way IEDs are made and employed, we can discover and identify bomb-making trends that will better prepare Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen to go into battle. We can provide them what to look for, how they are placed, how they work, and most importantly, how to defeat them."
"After months of training, we are finally putting it all together," stated Bledsoe. "FTX is the culmination of the entire work-up cycle and is our chance to prove that we are ready to take on the challenges of our upcoming deployment."
TSD relies on its Readiness and Training Department to carefully plan out the various scenarios and situations without disclosing training related information to the participating platoon. Almost every possibility is considered during planning said Prasek, and often the scenarios can be more difficult or more complex than actual events. This helps to sharpen the skills of the operators being tested to a level which will surpass that of the enemy.
"Planning for this FTX began six months ago," stated Prasek. "We coordinated with the training unit at Ft. Story to figure out which training sites would be most beneficial, and then developed scenarios with a story line that made the training realistic."
Prasek also explained that each scenario during the FTX was built on previous exercises. "The platoons found bits of evidence that would drive them to the next scenario," continued Prasek. "The evidence fit into a sort of puzzle."
"The scenarios were tough," Davis said. "We have really learned a lot over the past six months. We are now definitely prepared to overcome every challenge that comes our way."
"This is the best prepared team we have sent through FTX," Prasek concluded. "Prior to this exercise, we took a hard look at our training in preparation of a CEXC deployment and modified how we prepare for the FTX. It took a lot of people working long hours to accomplish this task. The skills they acquired during their work-up cycle helped pull them together as a team to complete all the scenarios with extreme success."