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Operation Thunder Weasel tests EOD skills

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Danielle Quilla
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
The 509th Civil Engineer Squadron (CES) explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team members participated in the Operation Thunder Weasel with the 1-135th Assault Helicopter Battalion at Truman Lake National Guard Training Site, Missouri, July 26 – 28, 2016.

The joint exercise involved several different scenarios the EOD team members would potentially encounter in a deployed environment, which included traveling on helicopters to a target location.

“This exercise was the first time we have had the opportunity here on Whiteman to perform a full-scale air assault operation,” said Tech Sgt. Matthew Workoff, NCO in charge of EOD training with 509th CES. “This operation allowed us to evaluate our team members on their ability to load out, infill, operate and exfil an area that they have never seen before, and do so safely.”

On the first day, the two teams traveled on UH-60 Blackhawk, operated by 1-135th Assault Helicopter Battalion crew members, from Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB) to the training site under the cover of U.S. Army AH-64 Apache Longbows.

“Utilizing the Blackhawks was vital during Operation Thunder Weasel because the teams were able to move to their objectives in half the time and do so with all their equipment,” said Workoff. “They were also able to practice skills involving the helicopters. Most EOD flights stateside do not get that opportunity.”

Upon arriving at the training site, the teams were tasked with clearing the area of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) utilizing their subsurface medal detector in order to establish a camp for the remainder of the operation.

The second day started early at 2 a.m. with an attack at the teams’ base camp followed by a team having to render safe a suicide vest attached to a member who was captured.

“Having the team members run a training scenario during the early hours of the morning gives them a better understanding of how these problems can happen at any time and that they must be prepared mentally and physically to meet these challenges,” said Workoff.

The teams were then dispatched to clear a road of emplaced IEDs and suspected weapons caché. Along the way they encountered near-explosions and gun fire. A simulated ambush tested the teams’ ability to treat a team and evacuate a member who was shot and in need of immediate medical attention.

“The medical evacuation scenario was one of the most critical aspects of the entire operation,” said Workoff. “Throughout the years, EOD technicians have had to do this real-world, whether it was in a deployed environment or stateside. If we can equip our team members with these key skills now, I know that they will be able to perform under stressful conditions and save lives.”

Once these scenarios were accomplished, the area needed to be cleared for the helicopters to safely resupply the camp.

Finally, the third day was designated for breaking down the camp and clearing the area one last time before exiting the training site on the Blackhawks to Whiteman AFB.

“For me, I found that the most valuable aspect of the entire training operation was that it allowed me to train as close to real world as I can get,” said Airman 1st Class Nicholas Wake, an EOD team member assigned to the 509th CES.

For the majority of the Airmen who participated, this was their first time experiencing training in this capacity.

“I was able to take basic skills I have learned at EOD school and apply them in a field environment that I have never seen before,” said Senior Airman Ryan Carel, an EOD team member assigned to the 509th CES.

The 509th CES EOD unit plans to continue to working with the 1-135th Assault Helicopter Battalion and use the Truman Lake National Guard Training Site for future training exercises.