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Stepping away for safety’s sake

Explosive Ordnance Disposal reservists pause to reflect on duty

Master Sgt. John Beebe clears an improvised explosive device during a recent training session at an air base in Southwest Asia. /U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady

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(446th AW PA) - Explosive Ordnance Disposal professionals are tasked with one of the most vital jobs in the global war on terror.

It can also be highly dangerous and stressful. That's why reservists with the 446th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight took time out for their annual Safety Day on Nov. 7.

"This simply allows everybody to stop, step back, take a look at the issues, and press forward," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Sursely, 446th EOD superintendent.

The Air Force EOD career field has taken some heavy hits in the last couple months. According to Sergeant Sursely, there have been at least three fatalities and six severe injuries, a significant toll in a career field that only employs about 1,300 individuals force-wide.

"We know everyone on that list personally, or at least by name," said Sergeant Sursely.

EOD Safety Day gave senior leadership a chance to talk to their Reservists about the causes behind these incidents, and what can be done to minimize the odds of them happening again. It also highlighted the resources available to EOD professionals before, during, and after deployments to combat areas. Wing chaplains were on hand to promote family support, since EOD Reservists have such a high deployment tempo.

"My wife has basically spent three of the last seven years as a single parent," said Sergeant Sursely.

Sergeant Sursely said the Air Force has helped make this separation easier to deal with by promoting things like Yellow Ribbon, a family reintegration program through family support. They've also scheduled weekend conferences for family members of deployed EOD Airmen, with targeted lesson plans from the Veterans Administration, Employer Support for Guard and Reserve, and Military One Source, just to name a few.

Senior leadership has also recently engaged EOD professionals on the topic of mental health, encouraging them to seek help if they feel they need it. Returning EOD Airmen now take part in three to four days of decompression briefings as part of their outprocessing.

"It's a good process, and it's getting better," said Master Sgt. Glen Tuttle, 446th EOD logistics NCO in charge.

Sergeant Tuttle said the decompression briefings give EOD personnel a chance to talk through any issues they might be experiencing, often times with briefers that are fellow EOD professionals who understand where they're coming from.

So far, the program has been well-received.

"It's extremely important for senior leadership to stand up, blow the horn, and say it's OK to decompress," said Sergeant Sursely. "One thing I'm most passionate about is getting care for my guys when they come back."

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