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Old 2 October 2000, 13:13
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EOD wants you

Navy Times 10/2/2000

Defuse career doldrums: EOD wants you

By David Brown

Life is good in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal community, Navy officials say, but not enough people know about it.

Both officers and sailors in the Navy’s EOD program enjoy high retention and high advancement and promotion rates. But on the enlisted side, although retention is high, the community needs more members.

Community leaders say they need to improve awareness of EOD operations and the opportunities available to sailors willing to work in it.

“There are a lot of misconceptions out there,” said Senior Chief Quartermaster (EOD/SW) Steve Marshall, assistant enlisted community manager for EOD sailors.

One of those misconceptions involves women, he said. Many don’t know they can join the EOD community, perhaps assuming EOD is under Special Warfare, which oversees SEALs. The elite SEAL program is closed to women, but EOD — under the Special Operations aegis — has always been open, said Lt. Cmdr. Gary McClelland, SpecOps officer community manager.

Officials are hoping to change the perception. They’re working with the Navy’s recruiting command to get the word out on EOD opportunities. They want to shoot a commercial to spread the word about the community to sailors on ships. And when the major motion picture “Men of Honor,” starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. debuts in November, the EOD folks plan to set up a booth outside the theater after the West Coast premiere.

The film chronicles the real-life story of Carl Brashear, an African-American who spent decades struggling against bigotry within the Navy to become its first African-American diver. Although EOD technicians are not the same as Navy divers, officials still want to work off the film’s spotlight on diving in the Navy.

Indeed, the community will take whatever publicity it can get. Out of 889 enlisted EOD billets, 683 are filled, a manning level of 78 percent.

“We’re just not getting as many people to try out for the program,” Marshall said.

The retention picture is a different story. Retention at first-term re-enlistment this year for EOD techs is 80 percent, compared to a Navy-average of 30 percent. Second-term retention is 63 percent — 47 percent for the rest of the Navy, while third-term is 72 percent, vs. the 62 percent Navy-wide average.

The problem is that the high-retention force is aging. More than 50 percent have been in the Navy for more than 14 years.

“It’s going to get ugly if we don’t bring in more people,” Marshall said.

The situation on the EOD officer side is much rosier. In the special operations officer community, retention through department head is 36 percent — three percentage points higher than this year’s retention goal. Those numbers are a staggering reversal from the rest of the unrestricted line warfighting communities, which are struggling to make their goals this year.

The special operations community includes EOD, diving and salvage, mine countermeasures and explosive ordnance management officers. As of 1987, all officers in the SpecOps community receive EOD training, no matter what their specialty becomes.

The secret to the positive numbers, McClelland said, is high esprit de corps among the community. Becoming an EOD officer, and wearing the silver “crab” warfare pin, means junior officers can grab command billets early in their careers. Lieutenants can command detachments, in which they oversee seven or eight enlisted EOD techs, on average. Plus, the job offers “real world experience,” McClelland said.

“You’re not in a constant training mode. You’re actually operating,” he said, pointing out that EOD officers don’t need to wait for a war to do what they’re trained to do. Officers and EOD techs have taken part in several high-profile sea searches, including the Gulf Air crash near Bahrain in August, the JFK Jr. plane crash last year, and the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800. “We not only have good pay incentives, but there is a lot of job satisfaction.”

Pays for EOD techs include dive pay, demolition pay, parachute pay, and a series of special duty assignment pays.

Although McClelland isn’t too concerned about the officer manning situation, officer satisfaction is closely tied to the number of enlisted EOD techs joining and staying in the community, he said.

Sailors in any enlisted rating can apply for the EOD program. More information is available on the Navy’s Bureau of Personnel Web site, at www.bupers.navy.mil
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