I Am An Air Force Bomb Squad Technician Serving On My 9th Deployment. AMA!
I am Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Douglas McDowell. I have been in the U.S. Air Force for 18+ years and an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (Bomb Squad) for my entire career. I am currently serving on my 9th deployment. I've been deployed all around the world and served with some of the bravest men and women our country has. I will answer questions from 9-11 a.m. EST. I will answer everything I can. Due to security reasons, I may not be able to answer everything, but I will certainly try. Check out stories of other deployed Airmen at www.afcent.af.mil. Twitter: @USAFCENT Facebook: www.facebook.com/USAFCENT [UPDATE] Thanks for all the great questions everyone. Got rushed out the door and forgot to end this thing properly. GREAT QUESTIONS! I'll definitely get some more deployed Airmen to do some AMAs.
Buckle two of them together.
Maybe a weird question, but are you ever impressed by something your had to disarm? Like a in a professional way, not in a "I am impressed you were trying to kill people" way.
There are some very ingenious bad people out there.
I've been on a couple of tours myself and just wanted to say thank you for the line of work you have chosen. The EOD teams saved a lot of lives during my time in Afghanistan, that is for sure.
My question is: Have you ever had to disable a bomb while under contact? If yes, what kind of thoughts went through your head?
Best regards, Norwegian Solider / Mortar / QRT || QRFIV / PRT18
Fortunately I haven't had to disable any bombs while taking fire, but many of my friends have been in that situation. From talking to them, they are usually so focused on the threat in front of them, they just have to trust in their comrades to cover their backs.
If we see you running, how hard should we try to keep up?
(And on a more serious note - I salute your bravery and hope you stay safe)
I run pretty fast, so you're probably not going to make it.
Would you rather defuse 100 duck sized horse bombs or 1 horse sized duck bomb?
Is it the red wire?
You only know after you cut it.
What does your family think about your job? If you are married, your partner must be one tough cookie.
I really appreciate this question because it gives me a chance to brag on my wife. She truly is a special person and is as much a reason for my success and sanity as my training is.
Are your testicles made of steel or something tougher and lighter, like titanium?
How often do you actually have to defuse a bomb?
During heavy activity times, I've had to defuse bombs 4 or 5 times per day.
What career would you like to have once you get out of the military?
I'm going to brew beer. Lots and lots of beer.
I'd like to thank everyone for their questions and I hope I answered them satisfactorily. My time is up. If you see me out somewhere, buy me a beer.
What is the bravest thing you have done / seen?
The lonely walk down range in a bombsuit to dismantle something "hands-on" is typically the most intense.
Has a bombsuit ever saved anyone's life? They seem like a worthwhile precaution, however I can't imagine that they would do all that much if a bomb actually detonated.
Bombsuits save lives to be sure.
What are some of the key differences between your work and the public perception of it?
I think public opinion is a bit skewed. Although "The Hurt Locker" gave a lot of publicity to my line of work, it also portrayed us as a bit reckless. Overall, we are hardened professionals and damn good at what we do.
Have you seen The Hurt Locker?
If so, what do you think about it? Is it even close to realistic?
Are there things that they got right?
Thanks for your service!
Oh the Hurt Locker, everyone always wants to know. There was a lot of "Hollywood" added to the movie, as expected, but it wasn't a total loss.
I've noticed that EOD is one of the jobs that AF, Navy and ARMY all offer (others include Crypto Linguists and security forces) are these jobs the same from one branch to the next? Do you often work together with Army and Navy EOD?
EOD is a joint service career from day one. We train together and work together throughout. There's a good amount of respect as well as friendly rivalry between us.
Is there any way to describe the type of pressure someone in your position deals with on a daily basis?
I've heard it said that we really don't choose this profession, it chooses us. A certain type of person does this kind of job. Overall, we deal with the pressure in the same ways most people do, but we do it as a team.
Are bombs with timers real things? Have you ever had to defuse a bomb with a timer?
Yes and Yes.
I'm moving to Wright Patt soon, what's your favorite assignment and why?
Spangdahlem AB in Germany. A most enchanting place.
How often do you choose to blow up a bomb rather than defuse it? (I've heard that this is sometimes the easier/safer option)
Has that ever gone wrong?
Often it is the best option to "blow in place" things we encounter. It is definitely safer and we can use our robots for this.
The only time it ever really goes wrong is when something fails to function.
Maybe I'm stupid, but couldn't you just shoot the wiring and set it off? Why waste a robot? Or do you somehow set it off without loosing the robot? Sorry for all the questions. I just have no idea how it works.
We use the robots to place explosive charges and then detonate them remotely.
Thanks for the reply, when I asked 'has that ever gone wrong?' In my head I imagined going wrong being that the explosion was much bigger than you would have expected. I totally forgot how much you must use robots and other mechanical devices.
So, my next question, has an explosion ever been vastly greater than what you expected? Perhaps additional explosives that the team were not aware off? I'd expect if this ever happens for it to be very rare, so if not in your own experience have you ever heard of this sort of thing ever happening?
How big is the biggest explosion you've ever seen / caused?
On the gone wrong part, we have had those "that was a bit larger than expected" moments.
As for the largest explosions I've ever been a part of. Tons of high explosives are in old missile motors. You have to be miles away before you crank those off.
Words cannot describe how much respect I have for you and your fellow Bomb Squad officers, To walk TOWARD the bomb...it's just....amazing, Thank you!
I appreciate the comment. We're proud to serve.
As a SMSgt do you actually get to diffuse bombs anymore?
I'm a former USAF member and to see a SMSgt do any sort of tech/grunt work is unheard of. Since they are much fewer and far between you always see them in upper management roles.
It is a hard pill to swallow when you promote yourself out of the hot seat, but I still put on a bombsuit and do the hands-on work whenever I get a chance.
How do you unwind when you have time off on deployment?
Family, friends and travel. Oh, and beer.
Bomb makers leave signatures. Do you find yourself dealing with a device, recognizing its construction and thinking "fuck you, buddy" (or along those lines)?
We do see similar designs and pass the info to our teams. It makes our chance of defeating them better.
Do you ever run into some of the more exotic liquid explosives or is it overwhelmingly UXO that you run into?
Liquid explosives aren't very common for the types of IEDs we encounter. Mostly simple homemade explosive mixtures or UXO adapted to make IEDs.
Do you do anything special before going out to do your job ?
I always check on my team and my gear to make sure they are ready. I also pray.
My buddy is about to go to Army E.O.D school, what advice can I give him?
Be ready to soak up a lot of info in a short period. It is worth the work, so don't give up.
What's your pet peeve when watching movies that include a bomb scene?
When you see things that would obviously never work or would be so simple to disarm, but they make a huge deal about it.
OH, and the biggest thing is they always over exagerate explosions
The over exaggerated explosions.
Have you ever thought you were going to die while defusing a bomb?
Actually no. You are very focused on the job at hand. If you are worried about dying, you are probably in trouble.
Good morning Senior. First of all thank you for your amazing servitude to our great country. I have been in the Air Force for 6 years and have been deployed 5 times. As a married man, does it get any easier at home?
A strong marriage takes work. Constant deployments can make it even tougher, but you will have something that many couples never get...great reunions!
What was the most dangerous moment during your job? How much longer do you plan to stay in the U.S. Air Force?
Having rockets shot at me was probably the most dangerous moment.
As for my remaining time in the Air Force, I am close to being able to retire, but as long as I still love what I do I will stay around.
I think a lot of people would look at us and say, "They're crazy." We're not crazy, just different in a good way.
I don't have a question. Just stay safe man.
How many robots have you totalled?
I have been able to bring all of my robots back. Other guys haven't been so fortunate.
Will there be a 10th deployment?
More than likely.
Heard a rumor that your guys all have a bar installed in your shops. Granted I heard that from a ssgt who had been out of the career field for a while. Is that still true? If so, that's awesome.
Traditions are important.
Favorite multitool? (Sog, Gerber or Leatherman, Victorinox....?)
I've always carried a Leatherman.
Could you disarm a bomb on a moving bus and does your job get you the ladies?
Follow up, Is it true that relationships that start under intense circumstances never last?
I am sure it can be done (Speed) and yes I do get the ladies. At least I've got mine.
are ieds as dangerous as landmines? the reason I ask is because I've read a lot about places like sudan and cambodia where left over landmines cause a lot of human suffering years after conflict dies down.
im curious if all the ied usage in iraq/afghanistan is going to lead to accidently deaths later on and what you might think about it.
IEDs and landmines are both very dangerous. The biggest difference is that there is no true quality control with IEDs. It is a crap shoot as to the build quality. With landmines at least there is reason behind the madness.
So each of the services have some specialty units that often seem redundant: Navy SEALs, Army Delta force (or whole spectrum of special forces). The Air Force has their own special forces, usually plane based (e.g. low observable helos, C130s with artillery pieces installed). However the air force also has their own commandos: guys who jump out of the helos with guns, fight hand to hand, etc. The justification is that sometimes the air force needs guys with guns to jump out and do shit. So, I'm kind of curious, as an air force bomb squad technician, what is the Air Power tie-in for your squad. Why do you exist as an air force unit instead of army or marine corp bomb squad being called in? Where are you deployed? Do you only defuse bombs around air bases, or are you out on the roads just like the army and marine corp guys?
Anywhere the army and marines go, you'll find AF guys.
We are out in the field everywhere you find Army and Marines. Often we will be at places with those units, the only AF guys around.
First, thank you for your service. I'm going into the Navy via an ROTC scholarship. My questions don't revolve around EOD, but instead around the military as a whole... Do the different branches all give each other a hard time, or is that just talk? Also, how often do the different branches collaborate actively?
There is a level of respect as well as a friendly rivalry between the services.
I did an AMA once, I'm just an Amn. You will get a lot of hate from people just for being in the AF. Just be prepared and thank you for your service sir.
People will hate.
I'm 24 and i'm currently seriously debating joining USAF. I'll be completely honestly I want to join USAF over any branch because I dont' want to kill anyone. I really want to join the USAF to be around all the new technologies of the world, as well as have the change to travel greatly. I scored as 92 on my Pre-ASVAB test, and I feel comfortable that I will be scoring around there on my actual test. What are some words of encouragement you would give someone about to join the Airforce?
If I like it, I plan on being a lifer. How long are you planning on remaining in the Airforce?
What were your feelings when you first joined, did you think you would be staying for 18+years?
Were there times you just wanted to up right and just quit?
If I were to do it all over again, I would still join the Air Force today. If you want a branch of the US military that will challenge you and treat you like an adult, join the AF.
Do people who create IEDs become more creative as time goes on (adapting the bombs they make to make them harder to defuse)?
If so, do you have training to update you on "current events" for the bomb squad profession, or are you for the most part left to improvise (for lack of a better word) your tactics on the spot?
Yes. We have to keep up with changes. You never want to be the guy to see something first, but when you are you adapt quickly.
The PJs & CCT guys are out there getting the job done.
Any advice for someone looking to go in to EOD? Not sure which branch, probably Marine Corps but AF is also an option, are there differences you know of between AF and USMC EOD?
If you want to be well equipped and treated well, go AF. My EOD brothers in the Marines have to scrape by on the tightest budget you could imagine.
Thank you for your time and your service!
What kind of support is available for a bomb squad member who has a potentially life-threatening or traumatic experience while on duty?
We rely on each other a lot. Being medically proficient has been the difference between life and death for many EOD guys. Their buddy next to them kept them alive.
Thanks for your service, MSgt McDowell. Guys like you are why a lot of our servicemen are still alive.
What's the most difficult explosive device you've ever had to disarm? Have you ever seen an explosive device that just made you scratch your head and go "What the hell?"
Sometimes you find yourself wondering how you are going to approach or tackle a certain problem. Necessity is the mother of invention and wanting to live just makes the inventions better.
First, I'd like to thank you for your service. I'm currently in Air Force ROTC in college and from an Air Force family. AIR POWER! Have you enjoyed your time in the Air Force and is there any other career you could see yourself doing?
I couldn't see myself in another service or career field. It has been one hell of a ride and I've loved it.
How has the adoption of crude explosive weapons, or home made weapons, predominately influenced by groups in the Middle East changed your job?
Is your field one which is constantly evolving and if so what difficulties does this bring?
Our line of work has transformed over the last 12 years. Threats change, but we have to remember the basics for when they change back.
I just want to say thank you. My SO is a combat vet with 3 combat deployments under his belt and he always spoke very highly of EOD. I can only imagine how many lives you have saved. You also saved loved ones a lot of heartache. Thank you Thank you Thank you.
How come you're still alive?
Wouldn't it be fairly easy for your enemies to set up a remotely controlled bomb and simply blow it up, the moment the bomb technician gets there?
I always wondered that ever since I've seen The Hurt Locker. How is doing this job not suicide..
It happens. EOD is targeted, but instincts and alertness help. Unfortunately we have lost guys because the enemy was specifically waiting for us.
I was told to ask how the chicks at the matador are?
You will have to go to that magical place and find out for yourself.
How do you get your reflective belt to fit over your bomb suit?
View HistoryShare Link