ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam –
The Vietnam jungle canopied overhead as the explosive ordnance disposal Airman entered his bamboo hut, where a birthday cake covered in blue and white frosting, and a group of teammates were waiting for him.
“I know that doesn’t sound like much,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dylan Bivins, the NCO in charge of training for the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit. “I had gotten news that day that my cousin had passed away, and I was having a pretty rough time. The team made me feel really good in that moment.”
Bivins was an EOD Team Leader on a Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency Mission at an undisclosed location in Vietnam, in early spring of 2021. Bivins led his team through a 32 day mission, and cleared more than 115,000 square feet of land for ordnance and aircraft wreckage. His leadership said that his guidance ensured the safety of 117 DPAA personnel and local nationals.
The DPAA mission is to return service members from past conflicts to the U.S., where proper burial ceremonies can be given.
“EOD personnel are primarily on these missions in case any unexploded ordnance are encountered,” Bivins said. “We are responsible for directing a safe course of action in the event any are found.”
Bivins worked alongside a U.S. Navy EOD technician, and together they would search for and set up new dig sites using metal detectors to locate new dig sites.
“Our metal detectors were useful in determining areas with a lot of aircraft wreckage in hopes that the area would also contain MIA personnel remains,” said Bivins.
Since 1973, the remains of more than 1,000 American service members killed in the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families with full military honors.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Bivins. “All EOD techs that I’ve come across have absolutely loved it. It’s a chance for us to get away from our day-to-day tasks, potentially do some EOD work, and participate in a very humbling mission.”
Bivins said that one of the hardest tasks he and his team overcame was simply the weather. The heat made it difficult at times to complete the rigid labor needed. He recalls some nights trying to sleep and the weather either being uncomfortably hot or bracingly cold.
“Our welcome letter mentioned that the mission would likely be the most grueling work of our life,” said Bivins. “I stayed at a base camp where we slept in small bamboo huts near our worksite. The bugs were practically unavoidable.”
Bivins’ mission in Vietnam gave him a different perspective on how EOD technicians work. He said he always felt prepared, but that there were moments that surprised him.
“It was a little bit of a shock when we moved some leaves and dirt and there was a UXO right under our noses,” Bivins said. “In Guam, we deal with UXOs routinely. The difference is we’re not the ones that discover them. We just render them safe and then take them to our disposal range.”
Those in the 36th CES/EOD were not surprised with Bivins outcome while in Vietnam. They said they knew that they were sending one of their best to complete this mission.
“Tech. Sgt. Bivins is one of our most proficient EOD techs at Andersen,” said USAF Tech. Sgt. Kurt Ziobro, the flight chief for the 36th CES/EOD. “His vast experience encountering WWII-era munitions on Guam combined with his impeccable decision making skills make Sgt. Bivins a vital asset to the recovery of our missing heroes.”
Those interested in volunteering for a DPAA mission should consult with the unit deployment manager. More information on the DPAA mission can be found on their website, www.dpaa.mil.