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Bomb diffuser

Bomb diffuser

Aimee Brown

When defusing unexploded bombs is what you do for a living, it goes without saying that confidence and calmness are essential attributes. Sergeant David Higgins has worked as an Ammunition Technician (Unexploded Ordinances) with the Australian Defence Force for seven years and is now training junior technicians at the army's Albury base. He says trainees quickly learn if they're cut out for the job.

"We try to put as much pressure on them, within reason, to see how they handle the stress and how they overcome it,'' he says. "Most people will develop their own way of dealing with it. Within the first few months of training you can see if they are handling it.''

Higgins has worked in high-danger zones such as Iraq and East Timor, but says there is plenty of work to keep ammunition technicians busy in NSW. Technicians are routinely called out to examine "souvenirs'' brought back from World War I and, increasingly, materials bought on Ebay and sent through the post.

"It's incredible. We'll get the call [from Customs] and rock in and have a look at it. If it's unsafe, we'll take it away.'' Higgins says there are countless types of explosives, and each one needs to be approached differently.

"It depends on the fusing. If you have a sensitive fuse you don't want to rush straight in and make a lot of noise. Every bit of ammunition is different and has to be taken on its own.''
When that unexploded material is in a populated area, the difficulty intensifies. "Most people don't know exactly what it is we do, so the challenge is in trying to get the civilians to move to another location,'' he says.

Qualifications: You need to be employed as a soldier with the Australian Regular Army for at least four years before you can apply to train as an ammunition technician.
You will then be classified as a Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps (RAAOC) soldier who is an ammunition and explosives specialist.

Course description: The eight-month training course takes place at the Army Logistics Training Centre Ammunition Platoon in Bonegilla, Victoria. The main role of an ammunition technician is to provide ammunition safety and performance assurance to commanders and staff, so you will learn all aspects of ammunition and explosives.

Costs: Training is provided as part of your career development. You continue to receive a salary while you train.

From the inside: Sgt Higgins says it is normal to experience some nerves while working in the field. "You never become immune to the stress because you're always exposed to it, but the biggest thing is to think about what you're going to do first,'' he says. "People who do this job have to have a level head; they need common sense and be able to think on their feet.''

He says the length of time it takes to defuse an explosive device can vary significantly, but regardless of the duration of the task, technicians must always remain alert. "Short jobs can take 15 to 20 minutes, but long jobs can take up to eight or 10 hours,'' he says. "When you're doing jobs that big you'll generally do 20 minutes, come back and have a 10-minute break and go back again.''

More information: Contact the Defence Force, 131 901 or