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'Mission complete'- Tyndall Airmen close out last EOD Afghan operation

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody speaks with Staff Sgt. David Thomas, 325th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal craftsman (left), and Staff Sgt. James Hendel, 325th CES EOD craftsman (middle), about being in the last EOD flight in Afghanistan, Oct. 8, at the 325th Mission Support Group. Hendel and Thomas came home after being deployed with the 466th EOD Operating Location Bravo Flight Sept. 11. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sergio A. Gamboa)

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody speaks with Staff Sgt. David Thomas, 325th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal craftsman (left), and Staff Sgt. James Hendel, 325th CES EOD craftsman (middle), about being in the last EOD flight in Afghanistan, Oct. 8, at the 325th Mission Support Group. Hendel and Thomas came home after being deployed with the 466th EOD Operating Location Bravo Flight Sept. 11. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sergio A. Gamboa)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- After Air Force explosive ordnance disposal officials reported mission accomplished for Operation Enduring Freedom Sept. 3, the last EOD flight, containing two Tyndall Airmen, is now home from Afghanistan.

Exactly 13 years after the tragic attacks on Sept 11, 2001, Staff Sgt. James Hendel, 325th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD craftsman, and Staff Sgt. David Thomas, 325th CES EOD craftsman, came home after being deployed to Afghanistan with the 466th EOD Operating Location Bravo Flight.

"I think it's good for EOD to be out of Afghanistan," Thomas said. "We love to do our job and be overseas doing it, but at the same time it's really good for families to have us back. EOD has been over there for more than a decade and the tempo was at a very high pace. Most of that time our Airmen were gone as much as they were at home."

According to the Air Force website, Air Force EOD Airmen have completed 55,847 missions and responded to 19,946 improvised explosive devices, the number one killer of U.S. combat troops, while supporting all missions during the past 12 years.

Even though the mission different from normal, EOD still got their job done.

"The final mission was to bring everything back from over there," Hendel said. "There was still combat operations going on, but for the last month there we focused on packing everything and preparing to leave."

This was Hendel's first deployment to Afghanistan, and one he had mixed emotions about.

"When I found out I was deploying I had an idea that I was going to be in the last rotation of EOD units in Afghanistan," Hendel said. "It's bittersweet. It was the last combat operation we had. Deploying gives us the opportunity to do the job that we train for on a daily basis. I joined to blow stuff up, disarm explosives, and when we are not at war that is limited. At the same time we are not adding names to our wall every year for fallen EOD techs."

Although this was Thomas' second deployment to Afghanistan, they differed in many ways. His first one contained more IED missions and the second one focused more on bringing everything back home.

"I've been there before so it was somewhat familiar territory," Thomas said. "Both my deployments were very different, they were polar opposites. This time the Afghanistan National Army was doing a really good job at taking care of things themselves. They have a lot of assets they didn't have. The last time I was there we had three or four IED calls a week. This time it was very slow tempo with the ANA taking care of the calls now."

Though the work load was fairly light from an EOD perspective, Thomas praised how well the ANA did on training.

"It was satisfying knowing it meant we, as a career field, had done the job of training the Afghans to take over well." Hendel added. "The work that the Afghans are capable of doing on their own now leads me to believe that we don't need to be there anymore. The little work we did with IED's really highlights how prepared they are now,"

Now that the EOD mission is complete for American troops in Afghanistan, doesn't mean it won't be missed.

"It was bittersweet news. It's always good to hear 'mission complete' but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a large part of what we train for," Hendel said. "I assume fire fighters or emergency medical technicians don't want things to catch fire or people to get hurt, like us, but when it happens knowing you have trained for a dangerous and stressful situation like that is a great feeling, so the rush will be missed."