Engineers, EOD technicians reap 'explosive' training opportunities at new range

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason J. Brown
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
"Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!"

The Airman knelt down, clicked a trigger on a controller and looked up through a narrow clearing in the trees before him.

The thunderous sound of more than one pound of Composition C-4 plastic explosive igniting rolled loudly across Langley Air Force Base, Va.

The detonation was the first operation at the base's new four-acre explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) range, which not only gives the 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron's EOD team with more training space, but also provided mission-critical training to civil engineers in a variety of crafts.

Prior to opening the new location at the northernmost edge of the installation, the range was located where Raptor Town, Langley's expeditionary training area, now resides.

To be authorized to use the maximum four blocks of C-4, EOD techs require 500 feet of clearance. The old range at Raptor Town provided merely 300 feet, located in close proximity to the flightline and base golf course.

When installation leadership made plans to build Raptor Town, 633rd CES leadership ensured the EOD flight would receive a new range to maximize their training capacity, supplying the technicians with an 800-foot radius site complete with a concrete containment structure with 29-inch thick walls, all constructed on a repurposed landfill site.

"Down at Raptor Town, we were literally in the middle of the base. We could only use two blocks of C-4 at any given time," said Master Sgt. Frank Pulice, the EOD flight noncommissioned officer in charge of operations. "Now we're out on the fringes of the base. Because we have more distance, we can use the fully authorized load of C-4."

As operations tempo remains high for EOD technicians, maximizing training opportunities remains critical for Air Force EOD teams. Because of the new range's location and surrounding land, Pulice expects the flight to be able to accomplish a variety of training exercises previously not possible, including burying explosives for technicians to detect and disarm, simulating unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices.

Additionally, the newfound separation also decreases impact on other units on base.

"In the past, there were times when we affected flying operations because of our training schedule. We can do training all the time out here," Pulice explained. "The guys are only going to get more proficient now that we have this range. It's going to give our technicians, who are extremely needed operationally, a better capability to train, not only for what happens here at Langley, but downrange."

The EOD technicians weren't the only Airmen to reap the benefits of the new range. Engineers with the squadron's Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force, or Prime BEEF, built the new EOD site completely in-house as part of a year-long troop training project, providing critical on-the-job and upgrade training for 633rd CES personnel in a variety of career fields.

"It brings in many different crafts - pavement and heavy equipment operators, structures, electricians, engineering assistants, environmental team -- to learn wartime training tasks right here in [the continental U.S.],"said Todd Barnes, 633rd CES deputy operations flight chief. "Our senior NCOs and officers learn project management skills, funding requirements, timeline requirements -- basically how to run projects. It prepares them to become better leaders."

Master Sgt. Tellas Johnson, 633rd CES heavy repair superintendent, said engineers had "unique training challenges" they wouldn't normally face during routine base operations - a "perfect learning experience."

"They've never poured 29-inch thick walls. They had to do a lot of research on vertical construction to get themselves prepared for it," Johnson said. "Not only did it make them better, but it gave them something to work on besides normal sustainment and routine maintenance projects."

Pulice said the establishment of the EOD range is a "win-win" for Langley and the expeditionary readiness of its Airmen.

"It was [civil engineers] putting their heads together to come up with how to help EOD and help the [633rd Air Base Wing] at the same time," he said. "That's how our range happened, and I can't imagine a better solution."

Johnson agreed, recalling the sight of the initial explosion rising from behind the concrete wall emblazoned with the trademark Prime BEEF bull head logo.

"Our Prime BEEF team is extremely proud of being able to do this project. It's rewarding to see it from start to finish," Johnson said, smiling. "We had challenges, of course, but once you overcome that and see the first blast go off, it's like, 'wow, we did that.'"