Explosive experts climb ice, build bonds in Breckenridge
Ryan Summerlin January 19, 2013
BRECKENRIDGE – Gathered around a table in the afternoon light at Sevens Restaurant, it would be impossible to detect the violence that marks their collective history.
Most have seen combat, and all have been injured in explosions.
But this week, the dozen or so servicemen specially trained in explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) and one civilian bomb technician who enjoyed a drink at Sevens Wednesday are getting away from all that while reconnecting with one another during the second annual “Return to Adventure” ski retreat in Breckenridge.
“We wanted to do something to bring guys that have been injured back to the life of adventure they knew prior to their injury, to what their new normal is going to be,” said Colonel Leo Bradley, commander of an EOD unit, who launched the retreat from overseas last year. “I’m a big believer in the healing power of camaraderie.”
The violence of the past isn’t visible at the table where the men are gathered with volunteers for a drink and some appetizers after a day on the mountain. But the camaraderie is.
The men spent the week in a lodge owned by the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, skiing, ice climbing and getting to know each other. They also have the opportunity to share their experiences with EOD specialists from local units who volunteer to help out during the retreat.
“The junior guys they bring in from the local units, they get our experience,” said Sgt. First Class Christopher Millward, an active duty EOD tech who lost his foot in an explosion in Iraq in 2007. “We get to download our epic resumes. As far as the battle field is concerned, these guys really do take a lot away from it.”
Bradley started the retreat last year, as the number of injuries from explosives in Afghanistan accelerated.
He missed the first retreat because he was still deployed.
This year they have ramped up the trip, keeping the adaptive skiing and snowboarding lessons through the BOEC and avalanche safety training with Breckenridge Ski Patrol and adding a new adaptive ice climbing adventure and some corporate sponsorships.
“To get these guys out together doing fun outdoor activities allows them to get back into their community of bomb techs,” Bradley said. “We’re a very tight-knit community of people.”
In the military, EOD experts self select for their training and dangerous jobs, creating a small but close group of specialists who bond across branches over their shared expertise.