EOD technician shortage
CHERRY POINT, N.C. — After years of pressing for more and more explosive ordnance disposal Marines, the Corps expects to fill a shortage in that field by October.
As of May, there were 456 enlisted Marines with the primary military occupational specialty of EOD technician, according to information supplied by Marine Corps manpower officials. Additionally, 142 enlisted Marines have completed EOD training, and that puts the Corps at 90 percent of its requirement for 663 enlisted Marines.
The Corps “expects to attain 100 percent of the requirement by the end of FY08,” manpower officials said.
That’s good news for Marines in a job that has been in high demand due to the use of improvised explosive devices by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. The demand has translated into high deployment tempos, as much as seven months on, five off.
“[Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom] has brought EOD into the spotlight,” said Sgt. John Rudd, an EOD technician with the team at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. “We are now so much more visible. We’ve had to grow because IEDs have become a buzzword, because EOD has become a buzz job.”
EOD was once one of the Corps’ best-kept secrets, small assets able to tag along with bigger outfits, such as Marine expeditionary units, Rudd said.
Now EOD Marines who aren’t overseas diffusing and detonating bombs intended to cripple convoys and kill U.S. troops are busy briefing and training units preparing to deploy. Some of that pre-deployment education includes how to spot IEDs and the insurgency’s latest tactics involving homemade bombs.
Meanwhile, EOD technicians still conduct range sweeps looking for unexploded ordnance, and respond to calls from the community when someone stumbles upon, say, a box of grenades grandpa kept from World War II. Rudd is part of the air station’s bomb squad, responsible for an 18-county area in eastern North Carolina.
With the demand outweighing the supply, the Corps has focused on increasing the manpower requirement for the EOD community. That has meant big-time re-enlistment bonuses for Marines who make a lateral move into the EOD field.
Re-up bonuses among highest
The Corps began offering some of its highest re-enlistment bonuses — $52,500 to $80,000 — for lateral movers to EOD last fall. The bonuses are paid for a couple of reasons, manpower officials say: one, to retain experienced Marines and two, to keep that experienced Marine within that MOS.
Lateral movers do not get paid the bonus until they’ve completed MOS training at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., according to a Corps-wide message released in October 2007. MarAdmin 628/07 also states that corporals who laterally move receive non-competitive promotion to sergeant once they meet their minimum time-in-service and time-in-grade requirements.
EOD technicians are entitled to $150 a month demolition pay if they perform live explosive demolition during a calendar month.
Not every Marine is automatically eligible to laterally move into the job of EOD technician. Movers must be corporals or sergeants with general technical scores of 110 or higher. Those eligible must be willing to extend or re-enlist to have 36 months of obligated service once they enter EOD school, be at least 21 years old and eligible for a security clearance.
They must also be interviewed by an EOD officer or staff non-commissioned officer, have normal color vision and no “claustrophobic tendencies,” Rudd said. Finally, EOD candidates must be U.S. citizens and have no mention of prior drug use in their military records.
“Personality plays a pretty big role,” Rudd said. “If the attitude and personality don’t fit, they’re not going to make it.”
Since the latest bonuses were announced, only two to three Marines have been interviewed at the air station’s EOD office. So far, no one has made the cut.
The process, which takes anywhere from two to three hours, includes running the physical fitness test and a bomb suit test to check for signs of claustrophobia, Rudd said.
Those who make it into EOD school face months of intense training.
“No BS, EOD school was the toughest military school I’ve been to,” Rudd said. “But making EOD school easy would not help us.”
The school, which is jointly staffed by the four military services, trains about 800 students each year, according to Eglin’s Web site. Marines, soldiers and airmen have 134 academic training days, while sailors have 198.
Marine officials at the school declined to comment on how many Marines attend the course each year or the attrition rate among their students.
Rudd said that the risks involved with the job have prompted some to find other work. For EOD techs, it’s all about mitigating risks, he said.
“Could I die? Sure. There are guys who have walked away,” he said. “Do you want to walk up to an IED that you know is there, or do you want to walk up to an IED you don’t know is there? That’s how I look at it. You have to be able to analyze your situation.”