AL ASAD, Iraq -- A "BOOM" is heard in the distance and a cloud of smoke rises outside the perimeter here, as Marines with Explosive Ordnance Disposal destroy items that could harm U.S. forces March 24, 2006.
"We had to dispose of unexploded explosive ordnance as well as damaged or hazardous ammunition," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Charles A. Whitlock, officer-in-charge, EOD, Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "It could not be stored or shipped due to its hazardous condition."
Upon arriving at the blast site, the EOD technicians began to set up the blast pit and place the M-112 block demolition, commonly referred to as C-4, strategically amongst the collection of ammunition and compressed gas cylinders.
According to Whitlock, many of the disposed items come from different areas on or around the base. Other ammunition and weapons destroyed, come from detainees held for questioning.
Once the demolition blast was set up, the Marines took cover inside their armored humvees and drove to a safe distance.
With the charges set and the detonation cord activated, the Marines sat tucked behind thick plates of steel, waiting to see their hard work pay off.
Minutes after they had parked their vehicles outside of the blast area, a massive fireball erupted from the ground. The shockwave from the blast sent waves of powdered sand in every direction, as an enormous mushroom-shaped cloud filled the calm-blue sky.
Five minutes after the blast, a single humvee with EOD technicians inside, drove to the blast site to ensure it was safe.
The range noncommissioned officer-in-charge inspected the area and gave the range 'all clear' call over the radio. The grounds were then inspected for explosives that didn't detonate to make sure insurgents couldn't use anything that was left behind.
The vehicles were then lined up in convoy formation and driven back to the security of Al Asad.
EOD is a volunteer Military Occupational Specialty because of the risk factor involved. However, Marines can't just get a technician job with any EOD unit. They have their own set of Individual Training Standards that they must learn.
"We hand pick the finest Marines we can find," said Whitlock. "We select Marines with the most drive, determination and requisite intelligence, so they can make it through the school and meet the demands of the fleet after they graduate.
Each EOD Marine is trained exactly the same. They have special training standards that they must uphold, as well as a high set of safety standards guided by Standard Operating Procedures.
"The big issue is if someone discovers UXO or something suspicious they call us," said Whitlock. "That's what we're here for."
When an emergency is called in, there is no time to hold a safety brief and hand out SOPs for the mission. The Marines revert to the training they have received to guide them harmlessly through missions.
The mission of Marine Corps Explosive Ordnance Disposal is to provide the capability to neutralize all threats to the United States and foreign conventionals from chemical, biological, nuclear and improvised explosive devices that present a risk to installations, personnel and equipment.
"We train every day, every hour and every moment as time permits," said Whitlock. "Due to the heavy operational load and shortage of EOD personnel worldwide, we often 'train as we operate, and operate as we train."