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Up in smoke with the EOD team

Tech. Sgt. Ferdinand Smith of the Patrick Explosive Ordnance Disposal team prepares the flexible explosives that will be detonated to dispose of the charges buried by his feet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman David Dobrydney)

Tech. Sgt. Ferdinand Smith of the Patrick Explosive Ordnance Disposal team prepares the flexible explosives that will be detonated to dispose of the charges buried by his feet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman David Dobrydney)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- If you heard an explosion from Cape Canaveral Nov. 30, don't be alarmed.

It was the Patrick AFB Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team doing its job on the range. These Airmen sometimes like to make things go boom!

Most often, the team disposes of flares that wash up on the beach or World War II-era ordnance that turns up. Last week the team went to the Orlando area when an old bomb was found in a vacant lot. Deciding the bomb was too hazardous to move, the team detonated it at the site. The very next day the EOD team investigated a suspicious package found in a vehicle on base and determined that it was not a threat.

This time however the team was disposing of flexible linear shaped charges. These are long V-shaped copper tubes filled with explosives used by NASA on boosters for use if the need for destruction arises. The approximately 25 pounds of charges recently destroyed are only a fraction of the 150 pounds of expired charges the EOD unit is getting rid of.

"Next year we're planning on upping our operation rate 50 percent because they're getting rid of more ordnance items," said team member Senior Airman William Crisp.

Before the demolition can go forward, the weather has to be checked. If the chance of rain or lighting is too high, the operation can be called off. Wind can also delay a detonation.

"We can't do detonations with 15 nautical mph winds," said Senior Airman Benjamin Gonzales, "It's just not a safe thing to do."

After burying the charges and attaching explosives to them, the team moves back to a bunker located behind the hill between them and the charges. Since this is an explosion that will produce flying debris or "frag," all non-essential personnel move back at least 500 feet.

Flight chief Master Sgt. Chad McCurdy shouts "Fire in the hole!" and a spilt second later a plume of smoke rises above the hill.

To become a member of an EOD unit takes eight months of training, said Tech. Sgt. Ferdinand Smith, and many students don't make it to graduation. "It's a mentally demanding course," he said.