EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE — The elite school that trains bomb technicians from all branches of the military held a somber ceremony today to mark the deaths of 11 graduates killed in the line of duty last year.
Families of the fallen and military dignitaries watched as the men's names were added to a memorial wall. The 11 deaths in 2012 bring the number of military bomb technicians killed in duty to 298 since World War II.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told the more than 1,200 people gathered for the annual memorial that the men died putting the safety of others first.
“All of these men believed in putting others' safety before the own,” he said.
The Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal school is on a remote swath of the sprawling Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. Bomb disposal technicians from all branches of the military must graduate from the school's intense program, which has a noncompletion rate of more than 30 percent.
EOD technicians were depicted in the Academy Award-winning 2008 movie “The Hurt Locker.”
Greenert said EOD school graduates save lives not only by disarming improves explosive devices and other bombs but also by conducting forensics investigations after bomb explode.
Graduates of the school were the first bomb experts contacted after the Boston Marathon bombing last month, he said.
Each year, the school memorializes graduates killed in duty the previous year by listing their names on the wall outside school.
Navy Capt. Joseph Polanin, commander of the school, said he has known graduates who names are now on the wall. “This is very personal for me,” he said. “I believe the wall inspires are students and honors the sacrifices of our community.”
During Saturday's ceremony, dignitaries from the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force read the names of all EOD technicians from their various military branches killed in duty since World War II. They then read the names of the three soldiers, four Marines, three sailors and one airman killed in 2012. Each reading ended with the phrase “we remember.”
Military leaders knelt before often weeping families and presented them with a folded American flag that has flown above the memorial wall.
Polanin said the EOD community has been hard hit by deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.
He said he looks forward to a day when EOD members and their families can gather for the annual event and pay tribute to those listed on the wall without adding any names.
“We have many enemies who would do our nation harm, and the demand for EOD graduates is always growing,” he said.
Those whose names were added to the wall today are: Army Sgt. Israel Nuanes, 38; Army Sgt. Eric Holman, 39; Army Sgt. Jonathan Schmidt, 28; Marine Sgt. Joseph D'Augustine, 29; Marine Sgt. Joseph Fankhauser, 30; Marine Sgt. John Huling, 25; Marine Sgt. Sky Mote, 27; Navy Petty Officer Taylor Gallant, 22; Navy Lt. Christopher Mosko, 28; Navy SEAL and EOD team leader Sean Carson, 32; and Air Force Airman Bryan Bell, 23..