Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

March 4, 2011 at 1:49pm

627th CES Airman's EOD role helped to save lives

Staff Sgt. Mark Walker, 627th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, was selected as the 62nd Airlift Wing’s 2010 Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. Sergeant Walker was deployed to Afghanistan from September 2009 to April 2010.

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash.  -- For most Americans, the Academy Award winning movie "The Hurt Locker" was just that -- a movie. But for Staff Sgt. Mark Walker, it's his life. 

Sergeant Walker, a member of 627th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight, spent part of 2010 diffusing bombs and improvised explosive devicess in Afghanistan, experiencing realistic scenarios depicted in the only Iraq or Afghanistan war movie ever to receive an Academy Award. 

The Airman's role in making Afghanistan a safer place for both U.S. military members and the Afghan people helped earn him the McChord Field 62nd Airlift Wing's 2010 Noncommissioned Officer of the Year honors, awarded last month by the eighth Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Sam Parish, during the Wing's annual awards banquet. 

At the banquet, Walker received a C-17 model with his name engraved on it and small monetary gifts from local companies in the surrounding communities. His wife got a parking pass for the commissary and base exchange. 

"She was really, really happy about that," he said.

The 62nd AW looks holistically at Airmen to determine who gets top honors. Such qualities include leadership style and effectiveness, work performance, professionalism and community service. For Sergeant Walker, that encompasses a lot.

Walker loves physical training, and can't get enough of it. The 32-year-old runs in many races around the area, including JBLM triathlons and last year's half marathon, in which he finished fourth in his age group. 

The former youth pastor is very involved in his church, Olympic View Baptist Church in University Place, where he said he receives faith guidance and healing for himself and his wife, Susan, and three children: Kaden, 8; Addie, 5; and Asher, 2. 

"The support of my wife has been huge for me, "Walker said.

When he's not helping out in church, he is navigating the Puget Sound's waterways to find the state's 50 or more camp sites that can only be accessed by a human-powered boat. And if that doesn't keep him busy enough, Walker is fundraising for the Wounded Warrior EOD Organization, a nonprofit that raises money and resources for wounded EOD technicians.

During his deployment to Afghanistan last year, he and other EOD servicemembers raised more than $9,000 for the EOD nonprofit by hosting a decathlon. Walker also makes ceremonial "hell boxes" that he auctions off, and donated $8,400 in 2010 to the EOD Memorial Foundation at the Naval School, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, located at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. 

"This was a good year," Walker said.

His deployment to Afghanistan from September 2009 to April 2010 didn't start off great. Two EOD Airmen were killed and Walker was called in as a replacement for one of them. He said the newly assembled team discussed what would happen if any one of them were next. The concern wasn't about their fate, but their families' futures. 

"All of us are okay with dying, but not okay with leaving our families behind, dealing with the uncertainty," said Sergeant Walker. 

Sixteen names of EOD technicians from all services who died in combat in 2009 were added to the EOD Memorial's wall last year, according to the EOD Memorial website.

Through his three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Walker has disabled more than 200 bombs; he's lost the exact count. It's not easy to put the bomb suit on and walk up to a suspicious package, or device, or car, wondering if this could be your last moment on the planet, he said. Walker's thoughts as he suited up and started his descent toward a possible bomb or IED were often of his daughter Addie. 

"She's the first thing that would come to mind, but I try to ... focus on the situation," he said. "What we do is a life or death situation." 

To get through it, he has his faith and friends. Whenever he goes on a temporary duty assignment or is on a deployment, he said there is a good possibility he'll see someone he knows. Any stress not relieved from friends can be delivered from faith. 

"With God in my life, He will be able to calm any storms that I may come across," Walker added.

While he knows how dangerous being an EOD technician can be, he wouldn't have any other job in the Air Force. 

"Our team created freedom of movement for the Army in (Arghandab Valley), and while we aren't necessarily fighting, we are making it safe out there for (military and civilians)," Walker said. 

Back at McChord Field, he spends most of his time certifying and training other EOD Airmen as the operations and administrative NCO in charge. McChord's EOD team becomes even more important when the president, vice president or another head of state comes to the area; the Secret Service taps them to inspect vehicle convoys, conference rooms, hotel rooms or other locations as directed. Walker was part of a recent exercise in which a suspicious package was found in the EOD conference room, and he and his team used the scenario to brush up on their tactics, techniques and procedures.

He's working now with three new EOD-qualified Airmen straight from school, helping them get current on certification and training. Walker likes the teaching role, and it is good practice, as he will soon leave 627th CES and head to Eglin to be an instructor at the EOD School. All EOD servicemembers go through Eglin and deploy together in combat, so working with Army, Navy and Marines will be nothing new. 

Before leaving, he wants to see the joint base and Naval EOD community come together for a summer barbecue. 

"I hope in years to come it will translate into joint training, but that's all in the works," he said.

Comments for "627th CES Airman's EOD role helped to save lives" (1)

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Marie Olson said on Mar. 05, 2011 at 9:25am

Congratulations Mark and SARAH!

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