Troops Train to Thwart Taliban Bomb Threat

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J.—Explosives lay on shelves throughout the room, tools sit next to bombs, and a newspaper clipping about Kosovo homes booby trapped with mines and trip wires lays beneath a small rocket. Behind a table, an improvised explosive device (IED) wired to a cell phone and a brick of explosives sits on a shelf.

For members of the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, devices need to be created to train for what insurgent forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan might devise next.

“Basically our whole unit here, we’ve pretty much pounded sand everywhere there is to pound sand in the world,” said Staff Sgt. David McLaughlin, Non-commissioned Officer in Charge, of EOD. “Our background as a collective here, our EOD knowledge and wealth of information that we have to pull from is huge.”

McLaughlin was joined in a meeting room at the base by Technical Sgt. Jeremy Pifer, the Section Chief of EOD. Both of them recently returned from deployment.

The USAF Expeditionary Center at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey is where airmen go for training before deploying to a war zone. Pifer and McLaughlin have to ensure that troops have the training they need to survive and to protect the lives of others.

Pifer and McLaughlin requested not to have their photos shown: Their work as bomb technicians has made them targets of the Taliban, and their training of others to recognize and stop IEDs saves innumerable lives.

They are the soldiers with the robots and the men called to the front line each time an IED is found. They joke that even the robot has a bounty on it from the Taliban, but this is the reality of their work. In a war where IEDs are the main weapon of the enemy, the two have the skills to render these weapons useless.

“We’ve taken a lot of casualties and a lot of heat, and Sgt. Pifer and I have both lost friends in just the past week,” McLaughlin said.

“We’ve got a dangerous job, and we all chose it, and we know that, but it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier when we lose friends. … That’s the biggest impact for us now,” he said.

“The last month has been really bad,” Pifer said, adding that he and McLaughlin were both medically injured at the time of the interview.

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