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EOD Flight Protects Alaska

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Patrick Sullivan
  • 673d ABW/PA

DUTCH HARBOR, AK -- Descending out of a heavy cloud ceiling, an Alaska National Guard C-12J Huron, carrying members of the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight, approached a small runway at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, June 30, 2023.

The harbor, on the island of Unalaska, is nestled in the Aleutian island chain stretching to the southwest of mainland Alaska, approximately 800 miles from Anchorage. The location is the number-one commercial fishing port in the nation and – more importantly to the EOD team – it was a key military hub for the United States in World War II and the site of one of the few conflicts on U.S. soil during the war.

This history of military presence often calls the EOD Flight out to some of the most austere parts of the state, running several of these missions a year to dispose of discovered ordnance. This was the case for their Dutch Harbor visit, prompted by a request from local authorities who had been notified of a potential unexploded ordnance.

“A hiker came in and reported what they believed to be an old unexploded ordnance, resembling some sort of landmine, anti-personnel, or other mine,” said Ben Knowles, Unalaska fire chief. “This is the first time that I've dealt with something that's embedded in the ground, or this close to town.”

Coordinating with communities across the state, along with various law enforcement agencies to determine jurisdiction, is an important part of ensuring a quick response and safety of the residents.

“In our training events we try to connect with local and federal law enforcement,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tyrone Powell, an EOD technician and team leader for the Dutch Harbor mission. “When we receive an off-base request, we’re likely partnering with the requesting agency. If we already have a working relationship with them, it makes the integration process easier.

Shortly after touching down, the team arrived at a rocky beach just outside of the harbor. Two of the EOD technicians descended a small cliff to the shore and began to remove debris from around the UXO.

Once the area was cleared, the duo didn’t take long to determine the mine-shaped chunk of metal was safe, and disposed of it so it would not get mistaken as an explosive again in the future.

The EOD team rallied with Knowles and informed him of the status of the beach UXO, and then followed him to the local museum to verify the safety of some donated military relics, including a hand grenade.

All four EOD members on the response crew shared a common sentiment; it doesn’t matter if they are disarming an active UXO or verifying the safety of a potential hazard; their mission is to ensure the safety and well-being of the communities they serve.

“I’d rather be called out for a suspected UXO and it turns out to be nothing than not being called out and someone getting hurt by an item that was written off as non-hazardous,” explained Senior Airman Janie Roberts, another member of the EOD team.

The mission on the ground took little over an hour, and the team was in good spirits as they met back up with the National Guard pilots ferrying them to and from the island. They grabbed a quick lunch and settled in for the 800-mile journey back home, ready and waiting for the next call to come.