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News | Oct. 12, 2023

Latest exchange could make lasting impact in State Partnership Program

By Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs 115th Fighter Wing

Two members of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing and their counterparts in the Papua New Guinea Defence Force were part of a recent subject matter expert exchange for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) Sept. 18-22 at Camp Ripley Training Center, Little Falls, Minnesota.

Thirty EOD specialists — including the Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve as well as the Navy — attended the advanced conventional course, created and hosted by the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing. The course emphasized five components of the civil engineer EOD strategy — restore readiness, invest in technology, drive innovation, develop and retain leaders, and partnership.

“Bringing technicians from different components and services allows us to share knowledge widely,” said Capt. Ana Smith, Air National Guard functional area manager. “Attendees can take what they learned to their units, which multiplies the value of the course.”

Senior Master Sgt. Erich Sanford, the EOD Flight superintendent with the 115th Fighter Wing, said the participants from Papua New Guinea were pleased with the training opportunity.

“They were able to practice what had only been trained in theory,” Sanford said.

Participants used diverse tools on live ordnance at Camp Ripley’s Leach Impact Area, one of two artillery ranges on post — and an ideal site for detonating ordnance. Working in five groups, they identified unexploded ordnance using reconnaissance techniques, X-Ray interpretation and technical data. Once the rounds were identified, they developed “render-safe” procedures for the live ordnance.

“Adaptability is the key to survivability in EOD,” Sanford said. “Working with other units in a team environment is the best way to shift and share our perspectives.”

This course, and similar exchanges, are critical to foster relationships between the Wisconsin National Guard and the Papua New Guinea Defence Force to promote security cooperation. Maj. Jessica Kelly, the Wisconsin National Guard’s State Partnership Program coordinator, traveled to Camp Ripley to observe how the Papua New Guinea participants integrated with other EOD technicians.

“It was an amazing experience to witness not only Wisconsin National Guard and U.S. Air Force capabilities in the EOD field, but also see the exchange of common practices amongst the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and how they are similar and different with those of the U.S. Air Force,” Kelly said. “The Wisconsin National Guard and the 148th EOD Flight welcomed the Papua New Guinea Defence Force as their own brethren, and participated in field objectives that consisted of a once-in-a-lifetime shared experience.”

Master Sgt. Mark Hilleren, 148th EOD Flight superintendent and the designer of this advanced conventional course, said teams spent a day testing an assortment of explosives and charges to understand their effects.

“We allow teams the opportunity to get exposure to our entire explosive inventory, and the space and freedom to practice varying techniques.”

Part of the training involved removing large-caliber projectiles lodged in 105-mm gun barrels.

“If a weapons system such as an F-16 or A-10 experiences a jam or lodged projectile, an EOD team could be called to remove the projectile,” Hilleren said, “which allows the equipment to be put back in service.”

Course participants also used sandbags to build barriers to protect structures, built for this purpose by the 148th Civil Engineering Squadron, from live ordnance. Barriers were built based on information from technical data and manuals, and then tested against live ordnance.

Smith said all U.S.-trained EOD technicians attend the same initial schooling and operate from the same manuals, but operational roles vary from the Air Force and Navy.

“Further, each EOD flight has a slightly different focus, depending on the mission of their base,” Smith explained. “Because of this, technicians have differing levels of hands-on experience with various procedures. The training environment at Camp Ripley allowed us to conduct realistic training that capitalized on the real-world knowledge of EOD technicians from different backgrounds.”

Kelly said the current relationship between the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and the Wisconsin National Guard is “alive and thriving,” and continues to grow with each event.

Audrey Flanagan of the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing contributed to this report