EOD Marines remember fallen, immortalize them
Story by Pfc. Sean Dennison
"Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends," John 15:13
This quotation is inscribed on a plaque that rests on a tri-faced structure within the air station's Combined Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit building.Besides the plaque, the wall is covered in portraits of Marines, 35 in all. The first portrait is of Gunnery Sgt. Michael Clark, the last of Gunnery Sgt. Justin Schmalstieg.
All the photos show Marines in either full combat gear or a candid portrait in civilian attire. There is not an official photo in the whole bunch, as one might see when visiting one of the squadrons and seeing the who's-who wall of personnel.
No one on the wall is alive.
At the base of the portraits are various ribbons, from the Combat Action Ribbon to the Global War on Terrorism Medal. Other memorabilia includes photos from the funerals as well as their programs. In the center is the EOD insignia that's sometimes mistaken for air crewman wings. Flanking the emblem are cutouts of Iraq and Afghanistan, the theaters for the operations where the Marines memorialized lost their lives.
Thirty-five of the approximately 600 enlisted EOD technicians are accounted for. Even adding the approximately 70 officers, that's still a 1/20th of all EOD Marines no longer among the ranks.
Any Marine who has ever questioned the sacrifices Marines make for their country need look no further than the memorial wall constructed in the EOD complex, dedicated on March 7, 2008, and since expanded to include the faces of the fallen.
"Every EOD tech on this wall we know, either personally or we've worked with them," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Simon Wade, unit officer in charge. "There's a story behind every one of these guys."
When the wall was first dedicated, it was a simple one-faced structure that only had 19 faces on it, and wood cutouts of Iraq and Afghanistan. The wall has since expanded in commemorating the deceased, the country models far more detailed with the locations of major cities and rivers etched into them, courtesy of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 combat engineers.
It is a grim reminder to all EOD technicians of the reality they face outside the wire, and an important reminder of the sacrifices these Marines are willing to make to ensure other Marines arrive home safely.
The wall only tells of the Marines whose lives have ended in completion of their mission. It does not account for the countless others who've had irreparable damage done to their bodies, such as amputations and loss of eyesight, to say nothing of post-traumatic stress disorder that follows.
All of that for an extra $150 a month.
For Yuma Marines who deploy with a squadron and thus stay on a forward operating base, it may be hard to imagine the lives of deployed EOD Marines, some of whom do not even wear the Marine uniform if supporting a foreign coalition. Hostile living conditions are the norm, and being targeted for assassination is a common occurrence.
Gunnery Sgt. Michael Clark is testament to this.
He got a call for unexploded ordnance in a vehicle, said Wade. When he got there, Marines had gathered around the vehicle. Clark cleared the area, looked in and saw something, but by the time he started running, the insurgents had detonated the bomb. They could've killed a lot more than one Marine, but they chose him.
And yet, EOD Marines still return.
"There's a certain breed of human it takes to be a Marine," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Donadio, EOD technician. "The same goes for EOD."
There's an adage that's quoted around EOD Marines: Initial success or total failure. Their mission is paramount to the safety of the Marines around them. With such a burden, why would anyone want to be EOD?
"Simply for the love of their fellow brother," said Wade.
The rewards aren't financially beneficial, and the job itself does not offer a lot of downtime - EOD Marines are back in the states, on average, seven months before they go on a seven-month deployment, and of those seven months stateside, they can relax perhaps a month and a half during their pre- and post-deployment leave - but the knowledge that another Marine is safe is a far more enriching than a fatter bonus. Marines are interviewed and informed before joining EOD, so there is no way the 35 Marines on the memorial wall did not know what they were doing.
There are other reasons Marines enjoy the job.
"You could be in this job for 30 years and you still wouldn't know everything," said Sgt. Dane Schielke, EOD technician, citing the multitude of ways ordnance can be constructed, "It's ever changing."
Whatever the reason Marines on the memorial wall joined EOD, they paid the ultimate sacrifice for it, and some service members out there, whatever they're doing now, can thank them for what they did.
Hopefully the open space left on the wall remains empty.