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710th EOD prepares to deploy

5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Published: 12:18PM September 13th, 2012
710th EOD prepares to deploy

Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord

Staff Sgt. Clayton Clute, a team leader with the 710th Explosives Ordnance Disposal Company on JBLM, participates in a week-long tactical EOD training exercise. The training is preparing the 44-Soldier company for a deployment to Afghanistan in the coming months.

Staff Sgt. Clayton Clute has a phrase set aside for every training exercise he has completed as an explosives ordnance disposal team leader and every one he’ll ever face.

“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle,” he said after completing a several-hour-long mission on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Sept. 4, with his three-man team to detect, analyze and destroy a group of simulated roadside bombs and pressure plate mines.

It’s a cliche saying, he said, but the sentiment is one taken to heart by EOD technicians, like Clute, who carry with them the painful image of a wall etched with the names of fallen troops as much as they do the lessons from their yearlong EOD specialty school.

The wall, with more than 290 names of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines on the plaques that adorn it, serves as a reminder that when you’re a member of the EOD community, you do what it takes to keep your buddies safe.

It’s ever the mindset with EOD service members everywhere, and for Soldiers with the 710th EOD Company on JBLM currently building up their small operating teams for an Afghanistan deployment in the coming months, the attitude drives their training.

“We have to be close because, to be honest, any time you say goodbye to somebody could be the last time you see them,” Clute said, as the company prepared to close out a weeklong exercise referred to as tactical EOD.

The training, a precursor for the company’s combat tour, lasted Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 and served to integrate the approximately 40 percent of the unit’s technicians fresh out of EOD school into the teams they’ll work with in Afghanistan.

The company deploys and pushes its three-man teams across the country, where the team members rely solely on themselves, said Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Verbeck, a platoon sergeant with the company. In some cases, he said, the teams support entire battalions alone.

“It’s letting these guys actually start to learn how to work on a team and work together, and build that cohesion that they’re going to have to take into combat,” he said.

Over the course of the exercise, the teams embarked on patrols and reacted to a variety of scenarios in which they had to remove buried explosive material. Civilian instructors from A-T Solutions, a company that trains military EOD units for upcoming deployments, supervised the teams and shared with them some of the most recently adapted operational lessons from Afghanistan.

“We’re actually playing against devices that are being found in country at this time,” said Clute, a former Marine and Army ammunitions handler who transferred to EOD more than three years ago. “It’s always something new. We usually never run the same devices.”

As Clute stepped through an overgrown field on JBLM during his team’s Sept. 4 training mission, sweeping his mine detector back and forth over the ground, two junior Soldiers waited on his commands. Whenever he yelled back to them over the more than 100-foot distance that parted the team, the Soldiers acted with diligence and speed, feeding him detonation cord or rope and making calls over the radio.

Specialist Joseph C. Donilon is the newest member of Clute’s team. More than 70 percent of his time in the Army so far has been spent in EOD school at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

But despite the few months he’s been in the unit, he and the team operate like a well-oiled machine.

Even Spc. Drake Sterling Myers, an EOD technician stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., augmenting the team for the week in preparation for his own deployment, fits in perfectly with the team.

“It’s known throughout the Armed Forces, if you see another EOD tech, it doesn’t matter their branch, you guys will take care of each other,” said Myers. “It’s one of the smallest career fields.”

Myers said the camaraderie among EOD teams is partly due to the memorial wall they all see daily during their yearlong school.

“We’ve all seen that wall,” he said. “We all know that we need to take care of each other and keep each other off the wall.

“That’s pretty much the main goal of any EOD tech.”

A typical EOD company has only 44 Soldiers in it, and the community is one of the smallest in the Army, said Clute.

“When somebody’s name goes up on that wall, when they’ve been killed in action, everybody knows that person,” he said. “You know almost everybody.”

Team leaders, like Clute, spend two years working toward certifications to achieve their positions. But for him, the hard work is worth the satisfaction that comes with it.

“When you take a device, and you take it apart, and you turn in evidence that gets somebody put in jail for putting it down there, you feel like you’ve accomplished something – like you’ve potentially saved a life there,” he said. “We’re just taking care of things that could hurt people, and I like that.”