Airman earns third Bronze Star
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 4, 2010 1:46 PM
Master Sgt. Van Hood displays one of the Bronze Stars he has received for bravery while serving as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician in Afghanistan and Iraq. Around him are ordnance and trigger mechanisms used to make IEDs.
Van Hood is somewhat nonchalant when he talks about his 16-year career -- laughing about the day mortar blasted just beyond the reach of his unit; detailing, with a smile, the moment an Air Force recruiter told him he "could play with bombs."
He shows little emotion when he recalls some of the missions that unfolded during his recent stint in Afghanistan -- even the one that saw a member of his team killed when an Improvised Explosive Device sent a 40,000-pound military vehicle skyward.
The only time he changes his tone is when he talks about his 13-year-old daughter, Emily -- how his wife, Kim, worries about him when he is deployed.
"My wife worries about it all the time, but I tell her, 'I'm not worried about it. I can take care of it,'" Hood said. "And my daughter, she knows what I do, and she's as tough, I guess, as any (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) kid can be. But I would think it bothers her some, obviously."
Yet, the master sergeant would never admit that his mission is any more dangerous than those held by others who serve their country -- that the third Bronze Star he recently received in any way distinguishes him from those comrades he lives to fight alongside.
"I'm no different than any other of the guys here," he said.
He sees himself, simply, as another airman with a job to do -- refusing to fear the uncertainty that accompanies months spent in a war zone.
"I don't think anybody goes over there expecting something bad to happen to them. I don't think anybody expects to fail," Hood said. "You just go and try to do your job. If I go to take care of something, I'm going to take care of it."
And during the six months he spent in Afghanistan last year, he did just that.
As the leader of an EOD team tasked with providing support to Coalition forces across the country's Wardak province, Hood participated in more than 150 emergency response missions, including 75 that involved an IED.
And those efforts -- which required him to, among other things, provide care to wounded soldiers, defend positions against insurgents and collect intelligence -- the Air Force said, "reflected great credit" upon himself and his country.
Even so, his perspective remains centered not around the acclaim he has received, but the idea that if he simply completes his mission, progress can be made in the global war on terror.
"I take my team of three people and we go out and do the missions. We run with whoever needs help out there," Hood said. "But I'm not just going out there blowing stuff up. I'm out there wanting to work with the people, find devices. We're not just targeting the IED. We're targeting the whole network behind it. Anybody can go out there and blow stuff up all day long and we'll be at it for the next 1,000 years. We want to focus on their government."
Inside a conference room on Seymour Johnson Air Force, Hood handles some examples of what he and members of his flight have been up against during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"These are nasty little suckers," he said, picking up a device about the size of a softball. "Once we find the IED, it's not that big of a deal. It's this stuff, the secondary stuff. This thing would take your whole leg off."
He then turns his attention to a landmine.
"Yeah, they'll stack those up," he said.
Top military officials have called IEDs "the No. 1 threat to United States and Coalition forces in Afghanistan."
"The ones we worked with, for the most part, were anywhere from 40 to 200 pounds of explosives," Hood said. "It's going to be buried underneath the road, and it's going to have different triggering mechanisms."
And that is why airmen like Hood are currently in such high demand.
"It's all very calculated. They are targeting us," he said. "There are so many places to take care of in Iraq and Afghanistan."
So after less than a year back home, Hood expects to be called upon to go back overseas by this fall.
But don't ask if he's afraid of the danger that accompanies the career field he covets.
This particular man tries not to think on those terms.
He's just another airman doing his job -- hoping that successful completion of the mission will help liberate a people and see his comrades return to their loved ones unscathed.
"You never know what's going to happen when you go out on a mission, but you have to be confident," Hood said. "We're over there as a team to make sure everybody comes back. That's our goal."