Air Force EOD embeds with Army Units

KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq -- Doing it just because it sounds exciting has a long standing reputation as a major reason why some people lay in hospitals recovering from injuries sustained while having "fun."

"It sounded like it would be exciting" is exactly how Senior Airman Aaron Skelton, 506th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight operator, described the reasoning behind his decision to join the ranks of the EOD community more than five years ago.

According to Airman Skelton, he was not at the top of his class in high school, and at the age of 20, for an undisclosed reason he decided to join the Air Force - an $11,000 bonus sealed his career choice in EOD.

"Looking back, training was long, and at the time it seemed stressful, but it was a lot more fun than the real job," said the Airman, who is deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

At 26, while on his second deployment to Iraq, Airman Skelton experienced just how exciting his chosen profession can get. During a two-month forward deployment to Forward Operating Base McHenry, where he and two other EOD Airmen were embedded with the Army's 10th Mountain Division performing route clearing duties Airman Skelton's life took a sudden turn.

During what he calls his "toughest" rollout with the quick-reaction force for post-blast investigation, the Airman realized how important it is to complete required training before deploying.

"We had been on the site of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device explosion about five minutes or so-seemed like forever," Airman Skelton said. "We were trying to get the hood up on a car to get the VIN number.

"We couldn't do it. So, we're standing their trying to figure out how to get the hood open and I hear this loud crack," he continued. "I felt my side and my arm get hit with something."

At that moment his wingman realized something had happened and she responded instinctively.

"We were standing probably two inches apart. I grabbed him and ran," said Staff Sgt. Angela Olguin, 506th Air Expeditionary Group/EOD flight operator.

"I thought we were just taking cover behind the truck," Airman Skelton said. "I didn't really understand that I got hit with something."

Sergeant Olguin realized her team member didn't know he was just shot, when he asked for water which is something out of the ordinary for him.

"I made him crawl to the back. I asked him if he was ok," she continued. "He said 'check my side, check my side, I think I got hit in the plate.' That's when I pulled his plate out and it just crumbled. I was like oooooh. So, I put it back and said yeah you got hit but you're ok."

The Airman said he wasn't as concerned about his arm as he was with his side.

"I was concerned about something inside," he said. "She pulled the plate out and didn't want to show it to me, because she didn't want me to go into shock. Then she just tucked it back in there."

The sergeant's combat life saver skills kicked in when she got a hand full of blood upon grabbing his arm.

"I bandaged it up to stop the bleeding and gave him an IV," said Olguin. "I'm glad I did because he was starting to go into shock."

On that day, both training and up-to-date equipment saved Airman Skelton's life.

Although Airman Skelton wanted to go back to work immediately, he was assigned to a desk job for a couple of weeks to properly heal, and then he was back on the team.

Airman Skelton was awarded the Purple Heart in a ceremony by Brig. Gen. Brian Bishop, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander, here July 23.

"I think about how lucky I was," said Airman Skelton. "There are a lot of (joint service EOD operators) who are awarded the Purple Heart (posthumously). It could have been worse...it just makes me think about it."