217th EOD, Law Enforcement Team Up for Explosive Ordnance Disposal Training
For three days, law enforcement officials from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office, the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office and the Antioch Police Department were invited out to train with the 217th.
The temperature steadily rises past 100 - sun blazing, sweat dripping, anticipation growing- as they take cover behind a Humvee. In the distance, they see the fiery explosion and seconds later, hear the thundering “boom.”
The California National Guard’s 217th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company spends a lot of time out on the range. Their annual training at Camp Roberts, July 6-17, was no different. As they gear up for a deployment to Kosovo, the company has focused on sharpening their skills and ensuring that they are effective in their capabilities as EOD technicians.
“Our AT objective was to conduct more specific EOD operations and continue growing in the EOD field, allowing us to become more proficient in our tasks for the upcoming deployment,” Staff Sgt. Ruben Sanchez, a team leader for the 217th, said.
Over the course of the 12-day training, they practiced gathering information and identifying ordnance, shot M107 long-range disruptors and M249 light machine guns, did range clearance on the live ammo ranges and blew stuff up.
For three of these days, law enforcement officials from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office and the Antioch Police Department were invited out to train with the 217th.
The benefit of interagency training is that each agency brings a different mindset and skill level, Sgt. 1st Class Stevan Mays, the 217th’s incoming first sergeant, said.
Officer John Fortner with the Antioch Police Department said that since the police academy does not have a course on explosives or ordnances, they were eager to learn.
“For us, the mere exposure to their career and their training and experience is invaluable,” Fortner said. “Theoretically, the notes we take here can be taken back to our police department and save someone’s life.”
In the past, the Department of Defense’s EOD teams were the ones called out to respond to bomb threats in local communities, Mays said. Now, it is increasingly becoming the responsibility of local police departments due to budget cuts. However, EOD does continue to provide support for those communities that do not have local bomb squads.
“We are being proactive in starting to foster some of these outside relationships,” Mays said. “In an age of reduced budgets for both civilian law enforcement and California National Guard across the board, it makes sense and benefits everyone to conduct this joint training and reduce expenses.”
The most beneficial part of the training for Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Amy Christey was being able to use the demolition ranges. Since her team does not get the chance to go out on demolition ranges often, they were able to do things they normally cannot do.
“I’m so grateful that this opportunity was brought to us and that we can work so well together because we’re really in this together,” Christey said.
Training with the deputies and officers also gave the EOD team an opportunity to see how law enforcement handles threats in urban environments.
“Law enforcement looks at things from a judicial standpoint and we, as EOD technicians, look at things from a tactical combat aspect,” Mays said.
While the unit has deployed multiple times to both Iraq and Afghanistan, their mission in Kosovo will require an entirely different set of skills because it is a NATO peacekeeping mission rather than a combat mission.
In a combat environment, the EOD team could destroy unexploded ordnances and improvised explosive devices where they lay without moving or handling them. In preparation for the Kosovo mission, the team spent a lot of time transitioning toward circuit disruption and collection of evidence, Cpt. Franklyn Pangelinan, the commander of the 217th, said.
“Kosovo is an urban area so we are not going to be able to just blow items in place because we have to worry about collateral damage,” Pangelinan said.
The team will also be working with the Kosovo Security Force and the Kosovo Police, teaching a five-week EOD course to the KSF and continuing joint training with other host nations.
Sanchez believes that many people do not know that EOD does so much more than just blow stuff up. “There’s a plethora of jobs we can do. It’s not like any other occupation in the military,” Sanchez said.
They can provide support for other units on ranges, conduct IED and UXO training, and deal with UXO hazards on base to make training areas safer for soldiers.
“This EOD unit provides a unique capability that otherwise doesn’t exist in the California National Guard," Pangelinan said.
“Right now, the California Guard is focusing on missions like the Homeland Response Force, the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package and the Civil Support Team,” Pangelinan said. “If they come across an explosive device, what’s next? They’re not trained to deal with that explosive. So either the California Guard reaches back to a local bomb squad that may or may not be trained for that specific item, or they can deploy a team from this EOD unit which is trained to operate in a chemical or radioactive environment and they know how to deal with these explosive hazards. That’s how we apply in a Defense Support of Civil Authorities role,” Pangelinan said. “That’s how we [are] important to the California National Guard.”
Knowing that their training has prepared them for anything that may come their way, they pack up their gear into their Humvees and head off, ready to mobilize for their deployment to Kosovo.