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Learning a different big bang theory


Ed Fritz (left), the unexploded ordnance training program manager for the Texas Engineering Extension Service, instructs a student at Texas A&M University’s Riverside Campus.

Photo: Texas Engineering Extension Service​

​Ed Fritz loves teaching students how to safely handle "unexploded ordnances."

“Where else can you go and blow stuff up for a living?” asks the 21-year EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) Navy veteran who now runs the unexploded ordnance training program for the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX).

Last fall, Blinn College (Texas) announced a partnership with TEEX, making the explosives training program eligible for college credit and financial aid. TEEX is the only organization in the nation approved by the U.S. Department of Defense to certify civilians in unexploded ordnance training.

Under the agreement, Blinn students seeking a fire science degree who complete four TEEX ordnance removal and remediation courses will be eligible for 18 semester hours of college credit toward an associate of applied science degree. Although military veterans tend to enroll in the program, its student demographics vary.

“We get everyone from an 18-year-old kid just out of high school, to a 73-year-old man,” said Fritz, who has taught the TEEX program for almost 10 years at Texas A&M University’s Riverside Campus. “This program is predominantly spread through word of mouth, so we get a lot of family members.”

A demand for explosive experts

The demand for unexploded ordnance professionals continues to grow. The U.S. has hundreds of military bases domestically and around the world, and at each base soldiers are training with live ordnances. Of those ordnances, 10-20 percent will not function properly.

“My guys go clean it up,” Fritz said. “We lead nomadic lives, always moving wherever the work takes us. If you work hard, you’re on the road 9-10 months of the year.”

Fritz said the primary reason students seek certification is due to the high pay available after completing certification. Graduates typically earn $60,000-80,000 right out of the program, and Fritz said one student earned $109,000 her first year out of the program, although that is rare.

And while the work sounds dangerous, Fritz said it’s no more dangerous than many other professions—as long as the safety guidelines outlined during the class are followed.

“Honestly, you’re more likely to get hurt going to work than doing this job,” Fritz said. “It’s actually a very safe job.”

The unexploded ordnance (UXO) course teaches students to identify ordnances, identify hazardous components, how the ordnance works and all the proper precautions to safely remove or destroy it. The first few days explain the basic physics, math, electricity, explosives and explosive effects before students move into identifying the nine primary types of fuses and their functions.

After that, students move into ordnance identification, starting with small ordnances, such as hand grenades, then moving on to rifle grenades and 40mm grenades before studying larger items, such as land mines, mortar rounds, projected munitions, bombs, rockets, missiles and underwater explosives.

Once students have learned about the ordnance types, they go into the materials and tools they will use in the field, as well as demolition procedures. Only after all that is complete do students go out in the field for demonstrations and hands-on training, which includes live explosive demolition procedures and the use of metal detectors and proper grid search techniques.

“We really do put you through the ringer,” Fritz said. “The first week and a half of training, we really are jam-packing your brain with info.”

Lots of training hours

The course packs 200 hours of training into four weeks.

“This is something that takes a high level of dedication and a high level of sacrifice,” said Nathan Sivils, director of Blinn’s fire science program. “These guys have really got to be focused on what they’re doing. You’ve got to be a person who is very knowledgeable and has a real desire to do this type of work because it’s not for everybody. You cannot have people who do not pay close attention to detail.”

Fritz has an overriding rule for his students regarding safety—if you don’t know what something is, don’t touch it. He added that even if you do know what something is, get permission before you touch it.

“If you don’t touch it, it can’t hurt you,” Fritz said. “For an ordnance to function it has to go through the laws of physics, and if you don’t touch it, that won’t happen.”

Bray is a communications specialist at Blinn College (Texas).