Improvised explosive devices have killed and maimed thousands of U.S. service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the number is decreasing today thanks to the use of robots to detect and diffuse the bombs.
"We deal with everything from small arms caches to all kinds of IEDs that can be initiated by pressure switch to a radio command," Gunnery Sgt. Bernard Coyne, of Cherry Point’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team. "Whatever they’ve come up with, we’ve dealt with it in theater."
The team, which has been on the front lines of the fight, opened its doors last week to demonstrate three of its most capable tools, radio- and fiber optic-controlled robots.
"I’ve used them both in Iraq and Afghanistan," Coyne said of the different robots. "They both have pros and cons. The down side of it is you don’t want to be sitting there for a long time because then you become a sitting target. The big advantage is that we’re far away from it when it’s doing any actions."
Coyne said many military explosives personnel have been killed doing the same kind of work that the robots do now.
"Losing a robot is just ordering a replacement," he said. "Most of the time, if they’ve been blown up, they can be repaired. On one, we only had to replace a claw. If it was a person working on it, they probably would have been killed at that range.
"We’ve dealt with anything from conventional munitions to pressure cookers to plastic jugs filled with homemade explosives. It’s whatever the bombmaker can think of. Every call is different."
While the EOD’s main duty is in Iraq or Afghanistan, the team will occasionally get calls to help authorities in Eastern North Carolina.
"Typically, it’s unexploded ordnance," Coyne said. "Once in a while, we’ll get a suspicious package or a suspicious vehicle."
Last year, the team was called out to a suspicious vehicle that had been in the Cherry Point pass and identification parking lot for too long. The team used a robot to inspect the car before personnel moved in.
"We get cannonballs all the time," Coyne said of work in the civilian community. "I’m kind of a history buff, so finding a Civil War relic is one of the perks of the job."
But the bottom line for Coyne is that the robots help save lives.
"The EOD field uses a lot of different remote tools because no one wants to be banging on it with a hammer," Coyne said. "These tools take a lot of training to master and these robots are a big part of that. Before we walk up to something, we want to know exactly what we’re dealing with."