It's overcast, a balmy 75 degrees with high humidity at 7 a.m. on day two of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician dive school aboard Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida. Students, that are still wet from the 500-meter swim portion of the physical screening test (PST), are now covered in sand and sweat as they drop to complete another set of push-ups at Thor's Playground, a slightly wooded workout area.
Spit and vomit drip from the mouths of new students as they are pushed beyond their limits. Sounds of birds chirping and insects buzzing are interrupted by motivation from what seems to be the entire instructor office.
"That first big day, day two PT, was a wake-up call," said Seaman James Harris, an EOD student. "You know it's going to be bad and when you get there - it's way worse than you expected. Everything hurts more, the challenges are bigger, and the pressure is a lot more than what you expected."
EOD technicians locate, identify, render safe and explosively dispose of foreign and domestic ordnance including conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, underwater and terrorist-type devices. This enables access during military operations in support of carrier and expeditionary strike groups, mine countermeasures, and joint Special Forces.
"The pipeline of an EOD technician is pretty extensive, long and grueling," said Senior Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Shawn Simmons, Naval Dive and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC) readiness department leading chief petty officer. "In total, if a student doesn't roll back, I'd say on average it's about a year to a year and a half pipeline from the day you enter Great Lakes to the day you graduate, and you're at your first mobile unit."
Students complete an EOD preparatory course at Great Lakes after boot camp, then a nine-week basic EOD diver course at NDSTC. After completion of the dive course, they attend basic EOD training for 41 weeks. During the final phase of basic EOD training, students complete basic airborne and EOD tactical training for a total of 55 weeks of training.
"You're never going to be comfortable in this pipeline," said Harris. "Physical preparation was taxing, but it was a straightforward plan - work out [and] eat right. If you're bored, do something to get yourself in better shape. But it's hard to hone mental skill, because you don't know what you need to prepare for until you get there. So, it was just making sure everything I did, I was a little bit uncomfortable, because the more uncomfortable you get, the more comfortable you become being uncomfortable."