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Air Force explosive ordnance disposal specialists ready ammunition for a controlled detonation at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, Afghanistan. Air Force photo by MSgt. Jim Varhegyi.

Back at home station with the last of the explosive ordnance disposalairmen who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, MSgt. John McCoy can remember how it started, 13 years and 55,000 missions ago, and how their living conditions and equipment improved. The three-time Bronze Star recipient also remembers the dangers, such as when he discovered he was “about 60 or 70 yards” into “a field of tripwires and live landmines.” Many times the EOD teams would respond to a report of “suspicious item alongside the road, wires protruding. … That could be anything,” said McCoy, an EOD flight chief with the 5th Bomb Wing, in a release. “There’s a lot of inherent hazard, but we try to keep it as safe as possible.” Despite their best efforts, 20 EOD airmen were killed and more than 115 wounded since 9/11. “There is such a thing as doing all the right steps and still getting hurt.” But, the reward is “every time you deal with an IED, you think that could have been someone’s leg, or that was two guys who didn’t get blown up,” he said. “Each one is someone who’s not going to have to get slung out of here in a helicopter, or even die.” (See also Tyndall AFB, Fla., release on last EOD flight.)