Airman Jace Zook, a 2016 graduate of Nevada High School, graduated from the Naval School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal on July 21.
Zook, 19, is now a certified bomb disposal technician for the Air Force, and has been awarded the EOD Badge, or what they call “Crab.”
The Naval School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal, he explained, is commonly referred to as NAVSCOLEOD. It is located in Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
“Prior to beginning NAVSCOLEOD, Air Force candidates go through a 26-day selection course in Sheppard AFB, Texas,” Zook said. “Per average, most candidates (to include Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines) take approximately a year-and-a-half to earn their Crab and become an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician. I was fortunate enough to make it through the program in about one year without any setbacks.”
His selection course in Texas lasted approximately two months, while NAVSCOLEOD in Florida lasted approximately 10 months.
When Zook and his brother were featured in a story around Christmastime last year, his mother shared with the Journal how challenging the selection course was going to be. Zook spoke a little bit about the challenges.
“The challenges and stressors you face in the schoolhouse are constant. In the selection course, you began every day with physical training at 0500 (5 a.m.). An average PT (physical training) or ‘smoke’ session ranged anywhere from three to eight hours and consisted of rucking, running, calisthenics and weightlifting. After PT sessions, the rest of the day during selection consisted of classroom work and testing,” he said.
Zook said the average school day at NAVSCOLEOD in Florida was very different. “Study hall began every morning at 0500, and classes and tests were conducted until 1600 (4 p.m.) every day, followed by physical training until 1800 (6 p.m.). You then had a couple hours to yourself to go to the gym, eat dinner and prepare for the next day before going to sleep,” he said.
To understand how difficult it all is, Zook shared how many made it through. “The 26-day selection course in Texas began with approximately 30 candidates. By the end of training day five, we had around 15 remaining. Only three of us remained on graduation day,” he said, noting that not finishing was split about 50/50 between people who chose to self-eliminate and others who failed tests.
“NAVSCOLEOD in Florida had a lower failure rate than selection. We began with approximately 20 students, but cycled through approximately 30-40 candidates in our class in our 10 months there. It is common here to fail a test and then be rolled back into a class behind you and given one final chance. On graduation day here, our class graduated with 14 students, while only four of us (including myself) had been fortunate enough to have not rolled back into another class,” Zook said.
The challenges and difficulties of making it through all of this have not been without reward. “I have learned more about myself this past year in training than I could have in any other environment,” Zook said.
“In EOD school, you learn more about never giving up and coping with stressful situations than you could imagine. Our motto in EOD is ‘Initial Success or Total Failure.’ When you’re hands on with a roadside bomb, attempting to render it safe in Afghanistan, there is absolutely zero room for failure. A state of mind that is drilled into your head from day one is that in EOD, you don’t train until you get it right, you relentlessly train until you never get it wrong. Attention to detail is crucial to success,” he said.
Zook drove home to Nevada from Florida immediately after his graduation. He’s enjoyed his short time to be at home with family and friends.
“I made a lot of stops to old restaurants I enjoy that I didn’t have access to while out of town. In fact I think I’ve eaten at Pancheros almost every day since I’ve been back,” he said. “I also went for a run on a couple of old trails I use to frequent, and have been going to the old gym I used to go to often. The time I’ve spent home has been great for decompressing and catching up with old family and friends.”
By the time this story is printed, Zook will be prepared to leave on Aug. 11 for England to go to RAF Lakenheath for his first duty station.
“I am extremely excited and couldn’t be happier with the location the military has decided to send me,” he said.
Once there, he will began his duties as an EOD tech. EOD has a very wide mission set. “A very common job we are tasked with at Lakenheath are VIPs, or Presidential Protection. Anytime the president or any U.S. diplomat makes an appearance in our area of operation, we, as EOD, are responsible for making sure any place the president or diplomat will be going and staying are clear of any Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). We also spend time conducting range clearances, disposing of UXOs (Unexploded Ordnance) among many other things,” he said.
Any free time he has, Zook said, will be spent conducting training for deployments, which include shooting courses, running scenarios and familiarizing himself with various tools. “I will be stationed in England for two years,” he said.
He still holds true to his decision to join the military straight out of high school.
“The more time I spend in the military, the happier I am with my decision to enlist. The past year I’ve spent in the military has been the time of my life and has been extremely challenging, yet extremely rewarding at the same time,” he said.
Zook said he’s made some amazing friends from all branches of the military and all walks of life. “I’m extremely excited and very thankful for the opportunities I’ve been presented with and plan to take complete advantage of any and all opportunities to travel and see the world. My plan is still to finish my contract, get out or enter the guard or reserves, and then pursue a master’s degree in a medical field.”