5TH CANADIAN DIVISION SUPPORT BASE GAGETOWN, New Brunswick, Canada –
A U.S. Army Soldier specializing in bomb disposal from the 192d Ordnance Battalion “Renegades” honed his skills to counter and dispose of explosive threats during Exercise Ardent Defender in Canada, Oct. 20 – Nov. 4, 2023.
Sgt. Braxton Isaiah Marbury, a member of the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based, 722d Ordnance Company, trained with explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) technicians from eight other allied nations: Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United Kingdom during Exercise Ardent Defender.
For the Marbury's, joining the Army is a family tradition that spans generations, so there was no opposition to his enlistment. However, news of him becoming an EOD technician elicited some resistance.
“My dad was in the Marines. He eventually was in the Army, too. Mom, dad, big brother, great granddad, granddad, everybody was in the Army. So, they didn’t have a problem with me joining the Army. But they didn’t support me going EOD.”
Marbury felt he was equipped to be an EOD tech due to his lack of fear.
“I figured there are only a few people who would volunteer to do something like that, and I’d rather be one of the people because I’m not worried about it.”
During his eight months of EOD training, Marbury learned various skills. Those skills included the basics of demolition, ordnance identification, reconnaissance, biochemical and nuclear ordnance.
Marbury’s initial training was unlike the specialized training that he experienced during Exercise Ardent Defender.
“It was different from the initial training of becoming an EOD tech. This is all advanced-level actions. EOD school doesn’t train you to be ready for the force; it just allows you to learn. It’s just giving you a strong baseline of what the job is about. How you actually do the job: every unit does it differently. In every theater, you have to change the tactics and techniques to accommodate that. So, it’s an ever-evolving job.”
Marbury is mentally tough. He’s not worried when he comes across potential ordnance because he is trained and proficient in his field.
“Because you know you have the skills to defeat it. There’s nothing to be worried about. I got it. I win. Once I figure out how you work, I win.”
Marbury keeps a good gym regimen to keep up with the physical demands of his mission-essential job.
“It’s a very physically tasking job. It’s a lot of heavy equipment, and you’re moving all of it while you're in the bomb suit. You’re a team leader. You have the suit on, and you’re also carrying all the tools and whatever else you have to take down there. So, you better lift some weights. You must be physically in shape, or you’ll become a hazard.”
Safety of those potentially impacted by unexploded ordnance is of utmost priority.
“Unless there’s an immediate hazard, I'm getting the people out of there and away, and once it's not threatening anybody’s life, then we can slow it down and take the time to figure out what’s going on. It’s a big easter egg hunt. Once you find it and find out what it is, you win.”
Humans and robots are the perfect tag team to combat unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). During the exercise, the participating nations utilized robots and other technologies to assist them in detection and disposal.
“You’ll still need an operator. When we do training events like this, we see the other side of the house,” said Marbury. “The Canadians, their robot, can do the majority of the work. It doesn’t take away from the operator’s skills, but we just haven't transformed into that. You have to make that approach sometimes; you have to go down where a robot can’t fit. I don’t see a robot being able to take over. Whether there’s one in a basement or a heavily forested area.”
Marbury learned some lessons during the exercise while collaborating with partner nations that he can pocket for future use.
“We’ve been talking to the Danish a lot. Their marking techniques are phenomenal. The way they mark cleared paths, it's definitely something we’ll be bringing home with us. They're a lot more thorough and technical. They're staking down ropes and things, and you can’t miss it.”
This exercise also presented a few obstacles for Marbury to overcome.
“The weather was an adjustment, as well as the number of ops we’re running. We're running back-to-back operations every day. So, the intensity of the work-rest cycle is an adjustment and language barriers, of course.”
The U.S. team worked with soldiers from eight different countries who spoke in various languages and accents. The weather varied from a crisp autumn to freezing snow during the two-week training event. Despite those obstacles, Marbury has a positive outlook on the exercise.
“This is my favorite exercise I've done so far. I like this. I like the environment. I like how they’re running it. All the problems that we’ve been running are extremely technical in some aspect. Somehow, it will make you think. So, I enjoy it.”
The many different scenarios that have honed Marbury’s skills included electrically timed IEDs.
“I've run three different electrically-timed IEDs. All with victim-operated backups, meaning it’s waiting to kill somebody or it's ticking down on a timer. And it also has a backup, so if you try to mess with it or move it, it’ll go off as well.”
With such high stakes, Marbury has a simple plan to disarm a threat.
"You want to identify it. Verify that it is a threat and you're doing that remotely. You’re getting some eyes on it to figure out what it looks like externally. From the external, you can't get much. Now, you have to get internal. So now I'm getting x-rays on it, figuring out what the internal components look like. I’m identifying the four basic components you need to have an IED. Once I have those, I know I have a threat, and now I'm going to attack it and defeat it. It's just figuring out what's inside safely.”
The ability to act alongside allies in pursuit of tactical, operational and strategic objectives is vital to EOD success.
“Exercises like these are important for the sake of interoperability, and we have a chance of working with any of these nations if we get deployed to an environment near them. Sharing tactics and learning to integrate is important so that our first time working together isn’t during an actual conflict.”
To Marbury, the international aspect makes this exercise different from the others he’s participated in.
“The international partners make this different for sure. They're running this in a deployed environment. We’re reporting back to HQ. The intelligence cell is ridiculous. It’s the first time we’ve had an actual intelligence and forensics lab associated with the training exercise and real devices built by the red cell. And then having an ever-progressing conflict with the enemies to where their tactics and procedures are changing with ours is so good. This is a very good training event, and there’s been a lot of thought put into it.”
Exercise Ardent Defender provided realistic scenarios, including a wide variety of ordnance and IEDs such as vehicle-borne IEDs, radio-controlled IEDs, person-borne IEDs and IEDs targeting patrols and convoys.
“We haven't seen anything yet that hasn’t been used in real life, so they’re extremely accurate.”
Marbury understands the importance of physical and mental readiness for his highly technical and dangerous job and is excited to continue disposing of ordnance as long as his mind and body allow. To keep in step with the job’s demands, Marbury enjoys hiking and other outdoor activities.
“I like hiking; I enjoy that a lot. Going to rodeos, hockey games, and things like that. I like being outdoors and just working. I like hiking because it helps me to stay in shape. And I actually enjoy it. I like seeing the scenery and going with somebody to talk and enjoy nature for a little while.”
With just two years left on his current contract, he plans on staying in the military as long as the good days outweigh the bad days. Some of those good days include days at training exercises like Ardent Defender. Marbury feels that the exercise was a great training event not just because of the interoperability among our NATO partners, but also because of the great men and women he worked alongside, whom he now gets to call friends.