Fort Sill’s 761st Explosive Ordinance Company does more than keep soldiers safe on the post and assist local law enforcement.
The company also has a secondary mission that most may not be aware of.
Explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) specialists are in high demand not only in the military but with the Department of Homeland Security and Secret Service where they routinely work alongside Secret Service agents during Very Important Person Protection Support Activity missions in support of the Department of Homeland Security’s Secret Service and Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
EOD also supports the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Pinkerton described the VIP protection portion of the mission and said members of the 761st and other EOD units throughout the military are tasked with assisting the Secret Service in protecting the President of the United States, President Elect and visiting dignitaries in the U.S. and around the world.
“Basically we’ll go to Washington and if they’re going to China, we’ll send teams to China. If they’re going to Russia, we send our people to Russia,” Pinkerton said. “We also protect other foreign dignitaries. So if the President of Israel is coming over, he has to have Secret Service support because he’s a foreign dignitary but he also gets EOD support.”
While Pinkerton couldn’t go into the specifics of his unit’s work with Secret Service, he did talk about the excitement of the job and how much he enjoyed the travel and seeing U.S. Presidents in person.
“So you go through and you do your searches, and you’re clearing these areas for the Secret Service guys and you’re the authority on bombs and explosive hazards. It’s fairly simple mission, but it does eat up a lot of time, but it is rewarding,” said Pinkerton. “You get to travel everywhere and meet President Trump and President Obama. I got to see speeches from Obama when he was first elected.”
When Capt. Katlin Vanwye, commanding officer of the 761st, isn’t preparing her unit to support its Homeland Security mission, she’s making sure the soldiers of her unit are prepared to assist Fort Sill artillery batteries with anything from unexploded ordinance disposal to clearing a stuck artillery shell from a cannon.
On Tuesday, Vanwye and her company were in an isolated corner of Fort Sill to train on “Stuck round” procedures. A stuck round is when, for whatever reason, an artillery round fails to leave the tube of an artillery gun, said Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Reynolds, a platoon sergeant with the company.
Reynolds said artillery commanders will call him to dislodge a stuck round after other less obtrusive methods have been tried and failed. While the method Reynolds and his team uses, which includes explosive, water and Vaseline, is not destructive to the artillery piece, it can be. And if that method doesn’t work, the only other option would be to destroy the gun.
Reynolds described the method as placing a piece of foam in the breach of the gun to prevent water from leaking, pouring water into the barrel, followed by a carefully measured amount of explosives. Upon detonation, the force of the explosion will push the water into the shell and force it out of the breach.
“We take that charge and put it down inside the tube,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to use that water as back pressure. It’s going to be a form of energy. That’s going to basically push the shell out of the breach the same way it was loaded in.”
Unlike traditional companies in the Army, EOD is made up of more non-commissioned officers than normal and they’re all volunteers which helps the unit function as more of a tight-knit family, said Pinkerton. Training in Florida for EOD specialist is usually a year long, so most soldiers coming to the unit are at least a specialist. Pinkerton said EOD teams across the Army are only at 50 percent and they’re continually looking for more soldiers. He said his ideal soldier would be one who has served in the Army for a few years, regardless of military occupational specialty, is motivated to learn and would be willing to volunteer.