#2. You Spend a Lot of Time Dealing With the Media
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OK, everyone knows the Hurt Locker side of our jobs -- disarming terrifying devices downrange in some sandy chunk of Explodesylvania, Middle Eastistan. But the United States Military EOD is also the go-to bomb squad for a ton of major law enforcement agencies, including the Secret Service. See, it takes about a year to train a person to dick around with bombs without becoming an immediate tragedy. Why spend all that money on a dedicated bomb squad when you can just outsource it to some federal employees who already have a ton of experience? So for instance, when the president has a press conference, we have to be there to make sure none of the cameras are actually bombs, or hidden guns, or hidden bomb guns, or some sort of alarming new weapon that turns guns into bombs. Part of this involves processing the media people before every event, and that was almost always smooth sailing.
"I'm going to try to have us not die. Cool?"
Almost always. Tom Brokaw once screamed at us for so long, I thought he was seconds away from keeling over with heart failure, and no part of my training included a course on how to defuse Tom Brokaw. He was on his phone, and the call was important enough that he flatly refused to shut it at the check point. This was a problem, because we were required to check that phone for bomb guns, but we had no actual authority over Mr. Brokaw. So a Secret Service guy intervened and politely flipped his clam shell shut. And I don't mean "politely" in a sarcastic way -- the Secret Service guys are in British-butler mode when they're on duty, 100 percent of the time.
Politeness notwithstanding, Brokaw lost his fucking mind. Apparently you don't hang up that man's phone without his consent.
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I thought it was the Greatest Generation, not the Great Ass Generation.
Generally speaking, the bigger the media personality, the less they feel like they should be hassled. I did an event in D.C. years back with Stevie Wonder, and his entourage sandbagged us every step of the way, making our job extremely difficult. "Do you know who I am?" "Well, no. Are you the keyboard player? I'm just a soldier, give me a break. I've got a job to do." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard "Do you know who I am?" I would have no use for the GI Bill.
Not everyone is an asshole about it, though. For example, Robin Williams loves everything about everybody. Matthew Perry also deserves kudos, because he didn't get mad when my partner and I knocked him down. We were in suits and ties and earpieces, running down the street in Manhattan to a job site, and my partner ran headlong into Perry. He got up, gave us a smirk, and asked, "Hey, who's in town?"
I gave him my stock reply when someone in New York asks that question: "Paul Reubens."
#1. We're the Authority (Unless You're a Civilian)
Subordinates never give orders to higher ranking soldiers in the military, but there are certain situations where ceremony and privilege have to fall away in the interests of stopping explosions from killing us all. As such, the first EOD responder to arrive becomes the on-scene commander, and while he may not have the highest rank, his advice comes with the added postscript "or we'll all die horribly."
I can't think of a time when I've said "We need to do [X] now" and had anyone in the military question me. Civilians, on the other hand, are free to pay us as little attention as their personal philosophy dictates. See, there's this act called Posse Comitatus, and it basically means that no one from the military is allowed to do anything that looks like law enforcement while on American soil. It's meant to prevent something like a coup, but it also means EOD folks have absolutely no authority over civilians in an active situation.
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"I paid for all-you-can-eat wings, I'm getting all-you-can-eat wings. Work around me."
Whether we're working with the Secret Service or the local sheriffs, it's the same thing: They do the ordering, we do the bomb disposing (and our lawyers handle everything else). For instance, say we need to clear some dude's barn because his collection of fertilizer and blasting caps is putting the whole neighborhood at risk. Even if we don't need to destroy the barn, he might decide to check up on us, because it's his property, and people in rural areas aren't always super fond of government employees. Now, we can't have civilians hovering around for a few reasons -- sometimes it's because of the obvious, and other times it's because the techniques or tools we're using are classified. But they are under no obligation to listen to us.
"You're goin' with the green wire? Really? It's always the red on the TV."
It's a pain in the butt either way, but there are compensating moments of glory. During my time in the Carolinas, one of our teams had to deal with a suspicious package. We ultimately decided that the safest thing to do was blast the shit out of it (see "shooting bombs until they explode," above), so that's exactly what we did. Now, this was at a big press event, so there were tons of news crews on sight, and they all wanted to get the whole thing on film. We warned them it was dangerous, but they chose not to listen to us, and we had no power to order them to leave. So we energetically disrupted the suspicious package, and out flew a very large adult entertainment device that proceeded to flop across the entire parking lot in front of all the six-o'clock news vans like a phallic fish out of water.
Hey, we did warn them.
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