Army bomb disposal squad is The Times’s Team of the Year

From The Times
December 29, 2009
British Army bomb disposal squad is The Times’s Team of the Year

Members of the team detonate a controlled explosion to remove an improvised explosive device from Safar Bazaar, in Helmand province
Tom Coghlan
No one can doubt the individual courage required to walk down a road towards a bomb, but it is the collective courage of British bomb disposal teams in Afghanistan that The Times wishes to recognise this year in making 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Regiment our “Team of The Year”.

Through the summer months of 2009, ammunition technicians from 11 EOD, working with the specialist search teams of 33 Royal Engineers, disarmed and removed hundreds of Taleban roadside bombs across Helmand province. They took on a level of personal risk unimaginable in almost any other profession, and formed perhaps the Army’s most “mission critical” asset in Helmand. Each bomb disposal expert dealt with between 85 and 100 bombs during their six-month tour. Their job is exceptionally rare in frontline service. They risk their lives to save others.

In July I met the self-styled “Team Rainbow”, a bomb disposal unit that included Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid and Captain Dan Shepherd — both hugely respected technicians who would later be killed before the end of their tours. A slightly scruffy, modest demeanour and self-deprecating wit appeared to be the communal traits of the team. Their nom de guerre was an ironic homage to the hapless puppets Bungle, Zippy and George in the 1980s children’s television series Rainbow.

It was the height of Operation Panther’s Claw, the British summer offensive to secure Nad Ali District. The thermometer was close to 50C in the shadeless, foul-smelling compound that made up “Yellow 14”, one of a string of British outposts being attacked every day. A week later Team Rainbow would clear 120 devices along a two-mile stretch of road to allow the Light Dragoons and Mercian Regiment to move forward amid fierce close-quarter fighting.

"Of the three awards we have given — Person of the Year, Briton of the Year and Team of the Year — the last one was the easiest verdict to reach. The only substantive discussion was whether the extraordinary bravery of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid merited his victory in either of the other categories. No doubt it does, but that would have meant missing a chance to recognise the heroic work of the Royal Logistic Corps’ explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) regiment.

Every soldier in Helmand province relied on the work of Olaf Schmid and his team. The courage they display in the face of extreme personal danger makes them a noble choice for Team of the Year.

The Editor decided on the EOD team almost at once. The discussion that followed was not really a weighing of alternative viable candidates. It was just due diligence, to be sure we had not passed over any team more obviously deserving of the title.

As we descended from the bathetic to the pathetic (see below), at no point did we encounter an option that seriously threatened to displace Olaf Schmid and the EOD.

The Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England was discussed but we felt that moving interest rates (or not, as it turned out) hardly compares with moving roadside bombs.

The England cricket team won the Ashes but against an Australian side in transition. The England football team qualified for the World Cup but that’s not enough. Maybe next year, fingers crossed. Even if the X Factor judges was a serious suggestion, they were disallowed because they compete against each other and therefore do not constitute a team.

You can see why the discussion was perfunctory because we had the answer from the beginning. The field was not great but the winning team certainly is. "


Book Reviewer
A well deserved award.

Congratulations Team ATO

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