TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Their name brings to mind the stories out of Hollywood blockbusters. Visions of deafening explosions and gun shots spin through the mind as one visualizes a service member crouching over a device, daring the sweat dripping from his forehead not to fall, praying he chooses the right wire to pull.
Though this is not the most accurate scenario of what explosive ordnance disposal technicians do, this t is what many picture when they hear the name.
What many are not aware of is how active EOD technicians are when they’re at home station, and how often they work with their local community, especially at Travis Air Force Base, California.
The 60th and 349th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD teams cover a 33,000-square-mile response area, said Master Sgt. Kyle Spalding, 349th CES EOD program manager. They work with several counties and National Park Service police.
One of their main partnerships is with Point Reyes National Seashore, a 70,000-acre national park that attracts more than 2 million visitors a year.
“We work with Travis EOD multiple times a year,” said David Schifsky, Point Reyes chief park ranger. “They provide a critical service to Point Reyes. We don’t have the training or authorization and it is crucial to protect the visiting public.”
An example of the services Travis EOD provides to the surrounding area, is when MK2 Marine Markers, buoyant signal flares, wash up on shore to be discovered by visitors. The flares are either dropped in the ocean by aircraft or surface ships and sometimes show up in public places.
“The things that wash up have to be dealt with in a safe and appropriate manner, and Travis is very responsive and respectful to the marine mammals and everything here,” said Schifsky. “There is a lot of history and relationships that have been developed.”
When markers are discovered, the public usually notifies park rangers in some form or another and the rangers reach out to Travis EOD.
“We’ll go out to the site, do reconnaissance on it, see what kind it, is the condition of it, and if it’s safe or not,” said Spalding. “If it isn’t, then we’ll take care of it – either explosively or through some other different procedure. We’ll render it safe.”
“We get an average of about two calls per month from the local community,” said Master Sgt. Mark Walker, 60th CES EOD Operations Section Chief. “Our main calls come from Point Reyes, when markers wash ashore, and The Presidio, a former military base, when items are dug up. After these calls, the second most common is when old war trophies are discovered, such as WWII grenades.
“Usually (someone) will find some piece of ordnance, and call it in,” said Spalding. “The local police will call command post and we will head out. We work hand-in-hand with local police forces on explosive devices.”
While local law enforcement departments have bomb squads, Travis responds to these calls because of a military munitions rule.
“The Department of Defense runs all munitions cradle to grave,” said Walker. “If a military munition is discovered, it’s our responsibility to dispose of it. The local bomb squads are not supposed to destroy them.”
Spalding added to Walker’s thought, “It’s not just a responsibility thing. We have the most experience in these munitions, as well as more in-depth knowledge in ordnance.”
Travis EOD teams also work with the surrounding area’s law enforcement branches through numerous training opportunities.
“We do a lot of joint training,” said Walker.” We’ll host different types of training for the FBI and police departments around here for their bomb squads. We just had a vehicle access class in October.”
The Travis EOD unit also recently sent some Airmen to Chico, California to host a post-blast course for the FBI, said Spalding.
“Our viewpoint is a little different than the civilian standpoint, so we add that to their training,” said Spalding.
Travis EOD technicians also meet monthly with departments in Sacramento and San Francisco.
“We teach them our tactics and procedures so local forces can learn what we do in case the threats from overseas make it here,” said Walker. “This is the most community interaction I’ve seen at any base I have been at.”