Remember that scene in Lethal Weapon when Danny Clover is stuck on the toilet, ‘cuz some bad guys wired it to explode? All those bomb disposal people in bulky gear show up placing blankets and covers over things. Then they use liquid nitrogen to cool the bomb and Gibson yanks Clover into the bathtub just before the whole thing blows up, leading to a smoking toilet smashing the hood of the cop car. Air Force EOD is usually nowhere near as cool as that. And most people probably never get to meet Mel Gibson or Danny Glover.
Pity, really, because the job is dangerous, and perks like meeting movie stars would be nice…
What Is an Explosive Ordnance Technician?
Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal units do just what they say: dispose of explosive ordnance. If you’ve spent any time in the military, you have heard the term UXO. If not, rest assured it stands for unexploded ordnance. When a mortar falls but doesn’t explode, that’s a UXO. When bombs drop but one doesn’t detonate, that’s a UXO. Or, when you’re cleaning out your grandfather’s old shed and find a grenade he brought home from Korea, that is a UXO.
When a convoy is traveling through Kandahar and the lead sees a strange-looking pile of garbage and wires on the curb, that is probably an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Chances are, in that convoy there are EOD technicians. Their job is to detect, disarm, and dispose of, that IED.
Air Force EOD Combat Roles
EOD technicians are likely to see combat. As enabler forces, EOD technicians embed with other units to provide EOD support and fill other roles as required by the mission. EOD technicians are not special forces operators, but do deploy with and support the SOF mission. Air Force EOD technicians are not only known for their bomb disposal skills, but for their willingness to pitch in and do whatever is needed. In this way, they act as force multipliers for smaller SOF units.
As the War on Terror has wound down, the need for EOD technicians in the SW Asia theater of operations has dwindled. The majority of EOD work is now local.
Explosive ordnance technicians respond to munitions incidents at home stations. They sweep and clear bombing training ranges — like Nellis and Utah ranges — of UXOs and dud munitions.
EOD technicians support local law enforcement agencies, which often do not have their own bomb disposal unit.
Their missions may include disposing of old dynamite, unstable ballistic ordnance, or even homemade explosives confiscated from criminals. Some EOD units are tasked with VIP support, clearing areas before public appearances by government officials and dignitaries.
One of the most interesting jobs for Air Force EOD technicians is the chance to work with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC).
The JPAC travels across the globe to bring home fallen servicemembers for repatriation. EOD technicians are there to sweep and clear UXOs from generations ago, making the space clear for recovery teams to claim remains. They ensure the safety of the recovery teams and the integrity of the fallen heroes.
Air Force EOD Training Pipeline
The training to become an Air Force Explosive Ordnance Technician is long and difficult. Trainees must first complete 8.5 weeks of basic training at Joint Base Lackland in San Antonio. From there they travel to Sheppard AFB for a six-week preliminary EOD course. This training is more physically focused, prepping the new technician to handle the physical aspects of the position, while working as a team. From there, it’s a trip to Eglin AFB, Florida.
NAVSCOLEOD is the Navy’s joint service school for explosive ordnance training. In this eight-month school, candidates learn to work with EOD trainees from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. They train together to:
“Learn, Do, Test, Rinse, Repeat”
EOD training divisions include:
Demolition (Explosive effects, safety, theory, and live demolition)
Tools and Methods
Core (Basic EOD skillsets)
Radiological and Nuclear Ordnance
Attrition [is] between 40-65 percent at NAVSCOLEOD.
Once NAVSCOLEOD is complete, trainees proceed to their first duty station, where they will complete upgrade and skills training for another year. After that, they have become EOD journeymen, ready to detect, disarm, and dispose.
EOD Technician’s Salary
Being an Air Force EOD technician will not make anyone rich. EOD technicians are paid on the same scale as every other career field in the USAF. For 2021, the base pay for an E-1 with four months in the Air Force is $1,785. That’s per month. Unless you were an Eagle Scout, have an Associate’s Degree, or are transferring from another branch, you start with no stripes; E-1.
By the time basic training, initial skills training, and NAVSCOLEOD are complete, you will have reached E-2, making $2,001 a month. Woohoo! Big Money!
Due to the inherent dangers involved in the job, the DoD does provide a monthly hazardous-duty incentive pay of $150, if the member was actually involved with explosive disposal during that month. The Air Force provides young airmen with food and lodging, so the paycheck is profit, but not much.
Deployments to imminent-danger or hostile-fire zones (think warzone) give you an extra $225 in your checkbook for each month or partial month spent there. Other incentives during deployments, like Family Separation Allowances and Combat Tax Exclusions, add a little more to the pocket as well. All that said, Glassdoor reports an Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician makes around $55k a year.
The Right Stuff
It may sound cliché, but successful EOD technicians do have the right stuff. They must be cool and calm and able to work under unbelievable pressure. Although EOD techs are not special operators, they train almost as if they were: Physical fitness is a must in the career field.
Further, successful EOD techs have the opportunity to attend some SOF training and expand their skillsets with advanced specialized training.