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Sheppard alumni become unicorns at NAVSCOLEOD

  • Published
  • By Julie Svoboda

Seven alumni of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Preliminary Course at Sheppard Air Force Base have achieved “unicorn” distinguished graduate status at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida as of September 2023.

The EOD techs completed 143 training days without failing a single test in a grueling course that averages a 33% washout rate and were awarded a Navy Achievement Medal for their accomplishments.

According to Maj. Nathaniel Demers, Detachment 3 Commander, the EOD career field is unique because both officers and enlisted techs train together in the same classes and earn the only joint service badge, commonly known as the “Crab.”

Unicorn DG Airman 1st Class Owen Sanders, an EOD technician who currently serves at Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico, followed his uncle into the career field. He credits his instructors at the preliminary school for the physical and mental conditioning that prepared him for the rigors of the NAVSCOLEOD.

“Staff Sgt. Workman and Staff Sgt. Eberlyn were incredible instructors, and always made sure we all knew what was expected of us and helped us to reach those goals and expectations,” he said. “Sheppard introduced me to EOD work for the first time and I believe the course helped me become successful at the next part of my training.”

Capt. Natalie Petro, who was a Unicorn DG in September 2023, first became interested in EOD while in Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. Although her career field is Civil Engineering, graduating from NAVSCOLEOD means she will be an EOD flight commander for at least three years. Petro said she graduated from college in 2019, and the fast pace of the course was initially a shock to her system, but the instructors’ unfaltering drive for student success kept her motivated.

“If they had to explain it three different ways they would,” she said. “The quality of the instruction was always there, regardless of whether it was hot or cold. It was always very high-quality instruction.”

Petro added that the integrated training environment was a different dynamic than what she had previously experienced.

“I remember showing up and thinking, ‘Holy mackerel, these guys are fitter, faster, stronger, the whole nine yards,'” she said. “But they never once looked at me like, ‘oh, shoot, it's the ma'am. She's going to be slower.’ We were rucking somewhere. We had to get over a hill and they know I’m going to do my best. But I'm not the strongest one there. And they just turn around, don't say a word, and they'll pull me over the obstacle. It was just like, ‘hey, we're a team.’ We each have our own strengths.”

For Demers, this concept of individual strengths combining to form a cohesive team is what sets the EOD field apart.

“We're expecting these airmen to go out to their flights, their EOD flights, and really, you know, put all their individual accomplishments on the backburner and go gel and be part of a team, because it's a two- or three-person team on every explosive operation,” he said. “It's great that they're smart. We want them to go join other smart teams, and really gel as a team.”

Instilling the value of teamwork into high-achieving Airmen is all in a day’s work for Master Sgt. Kyle Chandler, Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the preliminary EOD course at Sheppard. To him, the unicorn graduates embody the EOD spirit of resilience and extraordinary effort that begin at the preliminary course.

“The distinguished graduates were top performers at the Palmer EOD Preliminary School, a 26-day mentally a physically rigorous course designed to assess potential EOD Technicians,” he said. “The Airmen learned from their failures and had the grit and determination to grind through adversity. The guidance of the instructor cadre and their own ability and motivation enabled them to rise above their peers and be unicorn graduates in the hardest academic course in the Department of Defense. Welcome to the EOD team!”

In addition to Airman 1st Class Owen Sanders and Capt. Natalie Petro, unicorn distinguished graduates included Airman 1st Class Zane Schreiner, Senior Airman Dylan Lewinski, Capt. Louis Zib, 1st Lt. Daniel Pesci, and Airman 1st Class Cameron Poe.