01/04/11 — Seymour Johnson EOD flight responds during bomb scare

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Seymour Johnson EOD flight responds during bomb scare

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 4, 2011 1:57 PM

Members of the 4th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight have gotten used to responding to Improvised Explosive Device threats in Iraq and Afghanistan -- clearing dangerous stretches for Allied troops and civilians alike.

So when news reached Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Monday afternoon that a pipe bomb was found by a Department of Corrections cleanup crew along U.S. 70, just two miles west of the Rosewood Walmart near Riverbend Road, four EOD airmen strapped on their gear the same way they have countless times in theater and took action.

Master Sgt. Christopher Wakham said his team's approach was no different Monday than it would be in a warzone.

"Anytime you go on a response ... the adrenaline does get going, but you're just focused on the mission," he said.

And that mission, he added, was an important one.

"(The bomb) was just lying on the ground," he said. "Had it gone off next to someone, it could have potentially killed them."

Instead, Wakham -- with the help of Capt. Taylor Valentine, Tech. Sgt. Chad McCrackin and Airman 1st Class Justin Beasley -- guided a robot toward the device "to get eyes on it," the master sergeant said.

And once the team confirmed that it was dealing with a pipe bomb, they used a procedure to neutralize it -- Wakham said news reports that said the bomb was detonated were "absolutely false."

The EOD team was notified of the threat just after 2 p.m., and after waiting for permission to respond, was at the scene within 15 minutes.

Traffic was diverted from 2:45 to 5 p.m., said 1st Sgt. Jerry Burton of the state Highway Patrol.

Burton said the Highway Patrol provided a 500-foot radius of clearance around the scene.

"Our main function was as a supportive role so everybody else could do their jobs and stay safe," Burton said.

The SBI Bomb Unit, Wayne County Sheriff's Office, Little River Volunteer Fire Department, Wayne County Office of Emergency Services, State Highway Patrol and the Department of Transportation also were on hand -- some diverting traffic while others simply offered support.

Burton said the EOD unit requested that no radios be used by law enforcement officials because the pipe bomb could have been activated by the radio frequencies.

The matter is currently under investigation. Sheriff's Office Lt. Shawn Harris said the case has been handed over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and that a list of suspects has been complied.

Harris said the bomb appeared to be homemade.

Staff Writer Gary Popp contributed to this report.