BOURNE, Mass. –
“I’ve got three pax’s (personnel) heading down the road from the left,” radioed Sgt. Kevin Heenan to his command post, as he stood at the beginning of the entry control point at Tactical Training Base Kelley on Camp Edwards, here, June 15, 2011.
Heenan, an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician, with the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 387th Ordinance Company, Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit, and the rest of his unit were manning an entry control point, one of the many tasks a unit must master before heading overseas.
“The training is fairly realistic,” said 387th Ord. Co.’s senior enlisted Soldier, 1st Sgt. Richard Walters. “The thing that makes it hard is keeping the guys focused.”
These men are bomb disposal technicians. It is their job to walk up to a roadside bomb placed by insurgents (or any unexploded ordinance) and then render it harmless. Standing watch at the gate is not one of their duties.
While this task is not as high profile as defusing bombs, it is nevertheless important. For this task, the Soldiers are quite literally gatekeepers; they are responsible for screening any and all personnel and vehicles entering the base. This means that everyone and everything is searched. If they miss something, a terrorist could smuggle in a weapon or bomb and could kill or injure the Servicemembers in the base.
“Mahalla, Sidi,” said Heenan, as he greeted a local contractor and two of his men as they approached.
“Why my men not go to work?” asked the contractor, a fellow Soldier who was acting as a foreign national for the exercise.
Earlier when the two other men showed up at the gate for work, Heenan had to deny them entry to access to the base because their credentials did not match his access roster.
This is a common interaction our troops face when deployed. Local citizens who need access to the base for various reasons have to be screened. Sometimes they cannot gain entrance for the most innocent reasons, they left their identification at home or they are new employees hired by a contractor who either forgot to place their name on the access roster or spelled the person’s name wrong. Sometimes an insurgent or criminal will attempt to impersonate a person on the access list.
As the scenario played out, Staff Sgt. Bethany Kenneway, an Observer/Controller, with the Massachusetts National Guard’s Pre-Mobilization Training Assistance Element, stood off to the side watching.
Kenneway is part of a two person team. It is their job to make sure that all the training units are undergoing meets the Army’s standards.
“We start working with the units about a year or more out from their deployment (date),” said Kenneway. “We assist and advise the commanders with their planning for the whole MOB (mobilization) cycle or validation cycle.”
As Heenan checked documents at the gate, other members of his unit were equally busy; some provided security, others thoroughly searched personnel Heenan had let through to make sure that they were carrying no contraband (i.e. illegal weapons, bombs, drugs or other prohibited items). Other Soldiers were able to put the EOD skills to use; they were searching vehicles for contraband … especially bombs concealed inside the vehicles.
The exercise continued in this manner for close to two hours; local citizens, some friendly, some were not, approached the gate, on foot or by vehicle, and were either admitted for further screening and eventually granted access to the base or turned away. A few were taken into custody for attempting to bring contraband (i.e. illegal drugs and weapons) onto the base.
As the exercise wound down an SUV approached the checkpoint when it was full of people. As the EOD technician searched the vehicle, he spotted something irregular. The vehicle was wired with explosives, enough to destroy the gate and kill or injure everyone nearby.
Calmly as to not alert the driver of the SUV (and cause him to trigger the device) the Soldier asked over the radio an innocent question … “Are the B’s playing tonight?”
The question was a code phrase signaling to everyone that there was an immediate threat from an IED (in this case a vehicle borne improvised explosive device).
In a flash, the driver was subdued and taken into custody as other members of the unit quickly hustled all the civilians in the area to safety. In less than a minute the area was clear of people.
“They did great overall,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sean Comiskey, Kenneway’s fellow Observer/Controller from PTAE. “This last exercise they found a 155 mm round in the vehicle … they egressesed from the area, protecting the civilian personnel that were with them and called in their reports. They ran a real tight ship. They are validated, they checked off all the warrior tasks and battle drills for this scenario.”
If this had been a real event, one of these same men would have “suited up” and walked towards the SUV to disarm the bomb.