For the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) techs assigned to EOD Mobile Unit 12 at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren, a stateside shore tour is a time to relax and enjoy their families. EOD techs across the Navy have shouldered a fearsome deployment schedule since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Those frequent deployments almost always place EOD techs at the very tip of the spear, where they match wits with enemy fighters on a regular basis. The EOD community is understandably close-knit: few can comprehend the incredible challenges faced by EOD techs on the battlefield.
The EOD techs assigned to Mobile Unit 12 certainly enjoy their break from deploying with the operating forces. Their responsibilities serving the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, however, are anything but light. They help operate the Potomac River Test Range (PRTR), retrieving test canisters and safely disposing of any ordnance that washes up, a consequence of the decades of testing on the range. At Pumpkin Neck, another premiere testing site onboard Dahlgren, the EOD techs serve in a similar capacity and help support vital research, development, training and evaluation (RDT&E) programs. Of course, there is no Environmental Protection Agency in the combat zones they frequent, so practicing their craft stateside presents the EOD techs with a bureaucratic learning curve. Occasional calls for support from law enforcement in the local community provide some welcome adrenaline.
Maintaining and growing their vital skill set is always a top priority for the EOD techs, shore duty or not. Those skills were put on display when EOD Mobile Unit 12 facilitated dive qualification for other operators at the Dahlgren Aquatics Center on Jan. 30. The qualification itself was not particularly difficult for the veteran Sailors, but like a pilot going through a pre-flight checklist, each diver methodically tested their dive equipment before entering the pool. Divers inspected tubes, regulators, inflators, depth and pressure gauges before submerging. Lt. Sam Massey and EODC Jason Jordan, the leaders of EOD Mobile Unit 12, administered the safety brief and Jordan served as the safety diver.
“You go through the same tests on every dive,” Jordan explained. “The Navy dives within the safest parameters out there.”
Those parameters are constantly evolving as new equipment and procedures come online. “Every dive you do, you have to have the newest Navy dive manuals [on-hand],” Jordan added.
Later in the afternoon, it was a member of EOD Mobile Unit 12 who was in need of training. EODC Danny Ricks is no novice when it comes to EOD operations, but he wanted to put a new type of dry suit now issued to EOD techs through its paces. And so the team traveled by boat to a spot just upriver from the Harry Nice Bridge and prepared for a dive.
The new dry suits consisted of two layers. A fleece inside layer to keep the diver warm and a neoprene outer layer to keep the diver dry. The outer layer, which fits tightly by design, requires a bit of customization and adjustment to the individual diver to obtain a comfortable fit.
After some improvised tailoring from Jordan and EODC Brian Cummings fit the dry suit to Ricks’ neck, it was time to dive. Massey, who had prior experience with the new type of dry suit, dove into the river first, followed by Ricks.
Strong waves and currents prevented the pair from diving beneath the surface and Massey soon made the call to re-board the small craft. After the ride back to the pier at Machodoc Creek, the EOD techs trailered their boat and headed back to the shop. A more extensive dive would have to wait until more favorable conditions.
Until then, the EOD techs of Mobile Unit 12 will continue fulfilling their responsibilities and enjoying what is for them a relatively easy tour.