Defusing Danger: 20th CES hosts joint EOD exercise

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kevin Dunkleberger
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

There is something to be said for the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) community across the military. Among the stories and seasoned jokes from time spent downrange, an uncanny amount of shoppette hot dogs, and the sheer grit it takes to walk up to an explosive and put one’s life in harm's way for another, there is a brotherhood like no other.

Exercise Salty Weasel 2024 showcased this camaraderie during a five-day exercise, which included two service branches from four military installations, at the McCrady Training Center on Fort Jackson, South Carolina from Jan. 22nd to Jan. 26th, 2024.

Hosted by Shaw Air Force Base’s 20th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD unit, Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Quick, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD operations noncommissioned officer in charge, organized the largest Salty Weasel iteration yet.

Quick brought together EOD teams from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia and Fort Stewart, Georgia.

In its fifth year, Salty Weasel presented 12 different scenarios to the participating teams to test their skills, strengthen interservice relationships, share tactics and prepare for near-peer threats in the current warfare environment.

With information provided by the 51st Intelligence Squadron, Quick and his team replicated real-world encounters documented from current conflicts around the world to provide participants with the most up-to-date and authentic training possible.

“When teams practice something that has been seen on the battlefield, it’s not the first time they’ll encounter it later when they are downrange,” said Quick. “This training will keep service members safer; it will keep them from getting themselves or others injured or killed.”

Collectively, 40 service members from the U.S. Air Force and Army accrued more than 4,500 training hours in a simulated downrange environment complete with high pressure situations, lack of sleep and running water, and many opportunities to make quick and sound decisions.

The McCrady Training Center - a woodland environment complete with clearings and mock villages, such as the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) site, was selected to expose service members to the conditions seen in current conflicts around the world.

As U.S. near peer threats change, so do the ways service members prepare to diffuse those threats.

“Most of the training for the last 20 years on station has been improvised explosive device (IED) focused,” said Quick. “IEDs are homemade, that’s not the case when focused on near-peer threats. When we talk about near-peers, it’s military ordnance that are meant to work in a very specific way. So, identifying what types of ordnance we are now seeing and training on them is constantly evolving in our career field.”

In addition to practicing the techniques and procedures utilized within the changing warfare environment, Salty Weasel 2024 homed in on Joint Force cooperation to strengthen interservice relationships and increase EOD operational capabilities across the armed forces.

“Although we share the same schoolhouse, each branch has different specialties,” said Quick. “The Air Force is used to airfield protection and clearing runways to rapidly restore that asset to the mission. However, the Army has more people. So, their focus is on keeping mission supply routes open and ensuring combat spaces are clear for troop movement, whether it’s convoys, patrols or route clearances.”

Throughout the week, teams composed of both branches shared tactics and procedures to learn from one another when encountering training scenarios.

“Salty Weasel gives me more tools in the toolbox,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Young, 756th EOD Company, 184th Ordnance Battalion team sergeant. “I have ideas on how I would handle a problem, but the Air Force maybe has a different idea, or procedure, or tool I haven’t seen given the nature of our missions.”

It’s this diversity of training and ideas, brought together during joint training, that made Salty Weasel ultimately useful to the teams involved. 

The exercise came to a head during a final all-encompassing training scenario, featuring over 137 ordnance scattered across a field.

Collaborating as one united front, Air Force and Army service members conducted a massive grid search, used marking chalk and rope pulls to effectively identify and render safe all training ordnance and successfully complete the exercise.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Patrick Wood, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight commander, spent the week with his team at the McCrady Training Center and had key takeaways from the exercise as well.

“By being out here running a problem and observing the teams, I am able to communicate better to senior leaders how EOD can help in a fight and what our capabilities are, while advocating for our guys,” said Wood. “Seeing how we fit into the Air Force and Army overall, and the level of skill and professionalism of our team, it’s an honor to work with people like this. I could not be prouder of everyone here.”