The EOD-9 suit smelled as if a thousand people had worn it before. Sgt. Phuc Tran, a helicopter mechanic, grunts as the sweat runs into his eyes. Struggling to complete his last push up Tran thinks to himself, “What have I got myself into?” Moving to America at the age of 6, Tran never thought he’d be getting a taste of what it’s like to be in such a high-risk job field surrounded by veterans of the explosive ordnance disposal team.
Tran was born in Vietnam and spent his first six years there. His cousin, a U.S. Marine, visited often. Knowing little about the military at that time, it wasn’t until Tran moved that he became aware of what a Marine really is.
“I didn’t want to work a nine-to-five job at a cubical day-in and day-out,” said Tran. “It was around age 11 or 12 I decided I wanted to be a Marine.”
Enlisting after high school, Tran rapidly promoted in rank, making sergeant in his first three years. With Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 currently attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Tran will play an important role in the accomplishment of the MEU’s mission on its upcoming deployment.
“Our aircraft support the ground combat element by providing close air support, transportation, and reconnaissance,” said Tran. “My job is to make sure those aircraft can do that.”
Serving three years out of a four-year contract, the time has come for Tran to make a decision to reenlist or leave the Marine Corps. Keeping his options open, Tran recently spoke with the EOD team attached the 24th MEU.
Perceived as a more significantly dangerous job field, EOD requires unique individuals. Unlike most jobs, Marines must first make sergeant before beginning the process of moving from their current job to EOD. If a Marine is selected for EOD, they will endure a strenuous screening process and a seven-month long school to learn the skills necessary for the job.
Originally an administrative clerk, EOD team leader Staff Sgt. Adam Morris completed his EOD training in 2014, Morris was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with Combat Logistics Battalion 24 and this will be his second deployment with the 24th MEU.
EOD is responsible for the disposal of unexploded ordnance. UXO can range from something as small and simple as a fuse, to larger, more dangerous items such as grenades, artillery and mortar rounds. If something that is supposed to explode doesn’t explode, EOD is on the scene.
Inquiring information, the EOD team sat down with Tran and answered some basic questions he had about the schooling before letting him get hands-on with some of their gear.
“We let him get in the bomb suit, walked him around, and did some exercises,” said Morris. “Doing these exercises is an easy way to see if he’s claustrophobic, and if he has dexterity while he’s in the suit all hot, tired and miserable.”
The bomb suit Tran wore is the very suit that makes EOD most recognizable in movies. The 80lb Kevlar-reinforced suit provides Marines with protection from the explosives they handle.
“Many Marines don’t realize they’re claustrophobic until they put the suit on,” said Sgt. James Roberts IV, an EOD team member with CLB 24. “Marines aren’t used to carrying that amount of weight. The suit also doesn’t provide much ventilation making it harder to breathe.”
Beyond the physical discipline necessary for EOD, critical thinking is a crucial aspect for any Marine thinking about EOD. The team set Tran up with their hook and line kit, consisting of ropes, pulleys and carabineers, the unit uses this kit in cases where they need to move a suspected explosive from one place to another without any personnel being in the vicinity.
“The exercises are not so much a pass or a fail, but rather a test to see how well he reacts under stress, and if he can think outside of the box,” said Morris.
After completing the exercises and hands-on training, the EOD team members agreed that Tran’s efforts and attitude would serve him well if he chooses to make the move to EOD.
Tran explained the kind of work he did today is exactly what he first imagined he’d be doing when he thought about joining the Marine Corps. Tran enjoyed the challenge and said the difficulty level wouldn’t influence his decision because it is exactly what he expected.
Tran has an important decision ahead of him. Whether he’s turning wrenches or clearing bombs, Tran will continue to be an important asset to the Marine Corps.