USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION
Explosive Ordnance Disposal is one of the most dangerous jobs in the military. One group is trying to help EOD techs, veterans and their families cope with all that comes with it. By Carmen Gentile
IT’S A JOB UNLIKE ANY OTHER. While the front lines of battle are often perilous, not every mission is a potentially deadly one. But for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians, every bomb buried in a road or an undetonated artillery shell can mean dismemberment or death. Tackling some of the most dangerous work — and willingly putting themselves in harm’s way — EOD techs are specially trained to disarm improvised explosive devices (IEDs), neutralize chemical threats and handle biological and nuclear weapons. And it’s not just about bombs — techs are also skilled in parachuting, diving and collecting forensic evidence. Assigned to some of the most dangerous missions worldwide, and put in extremely harrowing and demanding scenarios, the stresses that come with being an EOD tech are unimaginable to most. While
techs often use robots to defuse bombs remotely or wear full-body suits made of anti-ballistic material capable of protecting the wearer from most shrapnel and smaller blasts, it won’t save a tech from an explosion meant to destroy a large armored vehicle. Day after day, often over the course of several deployments, the high pressure, stress and anxiety caused by doing such dangerous work can build up and eventually tear down the toughest men and women. If that weren’t enough, the posttraumatic stress that frequently plagues both active and retired EOD techs is often coupled with physical injuries associated with the job. Working with explosives, these specialists can experience traumatic brain injury (TBI), loss of limb or internal organ damage because of concussive blasts.
Recently retired Army Lt. Col. Paul Kopelen knows the hurt associated with the job all too well. The former commander of the 303rd Explosive Ordnance Battalion was briefly knocked out during a deployment to Iraq by a concussive blast during a controlled detonation of an explosive. He also experienced at least a dozen concussions during other operations throughout his six combat deployments. His injuries, coupled with seeing many fellow EOD techs severely injured or killed in the line of duty, resulted in Kopelen returning home to Virginia in 2010, changed in ways his wife and children couldn’t ignore — and weren’t equipped to deal with. “I would get angry more easily and was CO N T I N U E D