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First Airmen graduate extended Air Force EOD screening course

SHEPPARD AFB, TX - Airman 1st Class Jeffery Nurenberg of the 366th Training
Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal is practicing his (EOD) skills by
placing an explosive tool for a simulated disruption of a simulated suspect
package. Airman Nurenberg is wearing a bomb suit on June 27 2011. (USAF
Photo by Frank Carter)

SHEPPARD AFB, TX - Airman 1st Class Jeffery Nurenberg of the 366th Training Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal is practicing his (EOD) skills by placing an explosive tool for a simulated disruption of a simulated suspect package. Airman Nurenberg is wearing a bomb suit on June 27 2011. (USAF Photo by Frank Carter)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Six Airmen graduated from the first Explosives Ordnance Disposal preliminary screening course at Sheppard June 27. The revised and extended 20-day academic Air Force program gives Airmen a well rounded vision of their duties while mentally and physically challenging them.

The goal for the course is to filter out only the best candidates to fill the 270 seats provided annually to the Air Force and lower the attrition rate at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Col. Kenneth Backes, 782nd Training Group commander and event guest speaker, said it was an exciting day for Sheppard and an achievement for the graduates.

"Moving and revising the EOD preliminary screening course has been a years-long effort that brings us here today," he said. "This is a milestone that marks the progress in the careers of the Airmen graduating today as well as the progress of improving the EOD training pipeline."

Colonel Backes said the EOD training pipeline is a long and challenging journey beginning at the recruiting station, through basic military training, onto the preliminary course, then to Eglin AFB for the NAVSCOLEOD, ending up in Air Force flights located around the world.

Colonel Backes said the EOD pipeline reminded him of an event held here in the Texoma area each year, and hosted by the local community, the Hotter N' Hell Hundred. The event is one of the largest bike races in the country, stretching 100 miles long and during the last week of August.

"It takes drive, determination and stamina to complete the race," he said. "The race has a check point called 'Hells Gate.' It comes at a point historically where racers are about to hit the wall. To continue on racers have to make 'Hells Gate' by a particular time standard. If they don't they are diverted in a different direction."

Colonel Backes said the course had the same characteristic as the HHH100, "meet the standard and you are allowed to proceed." "Hells Gate" also has another correlation with the EOD course. Racers may decide not to finish the last 50 miles; instead they can go another route without finishing the race in its entirety.

"This course exposes the EOD candidates to the full spectrum of what they will encounter in training and NAVSCOLEOD," he said. "It gives them a taste for some of the real mission they will face if they decide to finish the course. Our experience instructor staff who have 'been there and done that,' provide them with a frank view of the EOD career field. The students choose to move onto NAVSCOLEOD if they meet the standards and complete this course.

"So graduates of class 11001 you have met the standard on time and have cleared the check point. You are cleared to proceed to the next leg of your journey, we wish you the best at NAVSCOLEOD and in your Air Force Career."

Master Sgt. Vincent Pagano, 366th Training Squadron EOD flight chief, said it is still early to tell how effective the course is. After a year or so there will be enough information to see if the attrition rate has been affected. Overall, he is confident this course will lower the attrition rate at NAVSCOLEOD.

"Honestly we will have to wait until we start having students graduate from the EOD school at Eglin to see if we have affected the attrition," he said. "It will be almost a year before we start getting data to show how well the course is preparing candidates. With that said, the students that were sent forward to Eglin were very motivated and showed a great internal drive to succeed in this career field."

Although the first class only had 10 students, Sergeant Pagano said the classes will continue to grow in size.

"The second class which is currently in session started with 21 students, of which there are 13 who remain in training today," he said. "Through the rest of the fiscal year we will have class sizes of 22 students. Starting in October we will have class sizes of 15 students with the capability to have three classes run concurrently."

Sergeant Pagano said overall, he felt the first class was very successful and the team met the intent of the new course, "to send only the most qualified individuals forward."

"We want to ensure the candidates who go to Eglin have a very good chance to successfully complete the course," he said. "Ultimately our goal is to fix the health of the EOD career field. This starts at the beginning of the pipeline and if we can have better candidates attend NAVSCOLEOD then we will have more EOD technicians make it to the field."

The following names are of the first six Airmen to graduate from the EOD preliminary screening course at Sheppard:

Staff Sgt. Timothy Strader, Staff Sgt. Derek Fisher, Senior Airman Keith Smith, Airman Jeffery Kinney, Airman Christopher Brown, Airman Jeromy Cato.
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