Senior Airman Brett Wood, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordinance disposal journeyman, captured a photo of the entrance to the Batu Caves while on a mission in Malaysia. Prior to leaving, the EOD team educated themselves on the region they were going to and pinpointed landmark areas. (Courtesy Photo by Senior Airman Brett Wood/Released)
Senior Airman Brett Wood, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordinance disposal journeyman, captured a photo of the Petronas Towers while on a mission in Malaysia. Five members from Eielson Air Force Base provided EOD support while the president was on tour in Malaysia. (Courtesy Photo by Senior Airman Brett Wood/Released)
by Senior Airman Ashley Nicole Taylor
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
5/14/2014 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- They're told where they're going and who they're following, but what they could face is unknown.
A team of five members from the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordinance disposal flight recently had the opportunity to support a unique mission--supporting the commander in chief.
"How we get selected to go on a mission, a tasking comes down and any Department of Defense EOD team can support it, but this one landed in our area of responsibility," said Steve Hallenbeck, 354th CES EOD operations support technician. "This particular mission took us to Malaysia and the VIP happened to be President Obama."
Prior to leaving, the EOD team educated themselves on the region they were going to and pinpointed landmark areas.
"I try to look up current threats in the local and surrounding area, figure out what explosives are historic to the area and if any were used by terrorists or activists," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Gates, 354th CES EOD craftsman. "I also look up the local culture so I can avoid offending or appearing rude to the locals."
Aside from EOD members, military working dogs and their handlers went along for added security.
"We both play a significant role in the security of the VIP because we can provide technical skills and knowledge of how a device could best be used to harm others," said Gates. "We use that knowledge to more effectively search and ensure that the VIP is safe. I try to analyze the area and look for the obvious places to hide something and then try to look for the less obvious areas."
The purpose of these missions is to sweep the area for improvised explosive devices ahead of time and safeguard the VIP they are following.
"In many ways, the U.S. president is one of the highest value targets for terrorists. EOD support is based on the fear that someday someone may try to use explosives at one of his events," said Senior Airman Brett Wood, 354th CES EOD journeyman. "We are there to ensure the safety of the president or any other VIP by making sure that he doesn't go anywhere that isn't 100 percent safe."
Annual training and preparation allowed the team to go on the trip, but they are available to leave at any time if necessary.
"We maintain our qualification to go on these trips with annual training, and when a specific trip comes to us, we are able to just pack our bags and go," said Wood. "We had to look up the State Department's releases on the overall security of Malaysia and we wanted to know where the U.S. embassy was, but other than that it was a routine temporary duty to prepare for."
Although an opportunity such as this one is more common during election years when VIPs are more likely to travel, the EOD team worked with the Secret Service to make sure the commander in chief made it back to America safely.
"Working with the Secret Service is an interesting experience. It is refreshing to go work outside of the military for a few days at a time and have new experiences," said Wood. "We get to see things that most do not get the opportunity to and sometimes we get to watch the president give a speech or meet celebrities. It is a very unique opportunity that allows us to witness small pieces of history being made."