3 It's Not Just Terrorist Bombs That Need Defusing
The vast majority of injuries my guys faced stateside weren't from terrorists. They were from fireworks. Back in 2011, five civilian unexploded ordnance techs died working on a pile of seized fireworks. Again, not terrorists. Fucking fireworks.
Yeah, the Fourth of July might as well be called "War on Explosive Ordnance Disposal as a Career Field Day." This is because everyone, aspiring EOD guys included, treats fireworks like toys. But they're filled with something called photo flash powder, which can be ignited with friction ("friction" being another word for "touching it the wrong way"). All it takes is one errant rub from your keys or your wallet, and that pocket full of fireworks is going to explode. And if one firecracker goes off, well ... here's what happened to a fireworks factory in Thailand:
Meanwhile, if some old chemical ordnance from World War II washes up in the Chesapeake Bay, guess who gets called to take care of it? Hell, we're still getting sent to clean up Civil War ordnance -- people use old cannonballs as doorstops. This one woman had kept a cannonball in her house for her whole life, constantly hitting it with the door and knocking stuff into it over the course of 40 or 50 years. What's the problem with that? Well, cannonballs aren't always just balls of lead -- they're often shells full of explosives. Sure enough, one day she and her husband had a spat and she slammed the door in a huff, and for whatever damned reason that was the day Mr. Cannonball chose to finally fulfill his sacred destiny.
"We're here, as a family, to tell you that you really need to get your shit together."
We had another case where a farmer stored dynamite in a wooden box on his farm for decades. I have no idea what he was saving it for. The apocalypse, maybe. The thing is, dynamite sweats nitroglycerin when you leave it out long enough. Add that gradually increasing pool of nitroglycerin to the wooden floors and bales of straw you find in a typical farmhouse, and it all amounts to a gigantic firework ready to go off in spectacular fashion. So yeah, the hell with getting anywhere near that. We wound up burning the whole place to the ground just to keep it from blasting a crater into the Earth like a goddamned meteor.
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."