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August 10, 2012

Big Bang Theory

Partnership between Blinn, TEEX produces explosive results

– Ed Fritz (center), the unexploded ordnance training program manager for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), instructs students at Texas A&M’s Riverside campusEd Fritz, a Training Manager for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) loves training students how to safely handle unexploded military munitions.

“Where else can you blow stuff up for a living?” asks the Navy veteran.

The training program called Unexploded Ordnance, traditionally referred to as “UXO”, fits perfectly with Fritz’s background as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician trainer in the U.S. Navy. After 21 years of service, Fritz now trains civilians and emergency responders at the TEEX facility located in Bryan at the Riverside campus.

In September 2011, Blinn College announced a partnership with TEEX, making the UXO training program eligible for college credit as well as financial aid. Under the agreement, Blinn students seeking a Fire Science degree who complete four TEEX Ordnance Removal & Remediation courses would be eligible for 18 semester hours of credit toward an Associate of Applied Science degree.

The agreement makes TEEX the only provider of degree credit linked to the unexploded ordnance industry and allows military veterans to take advantage of government funding for their training.

It is the only unexploded ordnance program in the country being offered by a college.
“Our students range from young adults just entering the workforce to experienced older participants interested in pursuing a new profession,” said Fritz, who has been delivering TEEX UXO training for almost 10 years. Subsequently, the target market for becoming a UXO Technician is quite diverse. “Interest in the UXO program is predominantly spread through past program graduates. For that reason we sometimes see multiple family members of past students register for the course.”

The demand for unexploded ordnance professionals continues to grow across the globe. The United States has hundreds of military bases located domestically and around the world. At each of these bases soldiers receive hands-on training using live ordnance. However, a significant amount of the ordnance will not function properly and remains undetonated.

“When this happens, our students are hired through private contractors to clean it up,” Fritz said. “Typically, UXO Technicians remain on the move completing one contracted job only to head out for another, moving wherever the work may take them. Over the course on a year, a UXO Technician may be on the road for 9-10 months.”

Fritz said the primary reason students seek UXO Technician certification is the high pay received when hired by industry contractors to clear a site. Students have the opportunity to earn $60-80,000 immediately upon graduation from the program. Although not typical, one graduate earned $109,000 during their first year as a UXO Technician contractor.

And while the work is dangerous, Fritz said it’s no more dangerous than many other specialized professions – as long as all safety policies and procedures are followed as demonstrated during the course and mandated by individual industry contractors injuries can be prevented.

The TEEX UXO Technician course provides instruction to all students on ordnance characteristics to include identification, specific hazardous components unique to each munition, ordnance use and dynamics, proper precautions to safely remove or destroy the ordnance as well as other factors related to the required for standoff distances. During the first week of the course, basic physics, math, electricity, explosives and explosive effects are covered before students are permitted to move forward. Only then after proficiency testing are students able to progress to fuze types and functions.

After additional proficiency testing is successfully completed, students move into identification, beginning with small ordnance such as hand grenades and then move into larger explosives such as land mines, mortar rounds, projected munitions, bombs, rockets, missiles and underwater munitions.

Once students have mastered this information through additional testing, they begin live demolition procedures during week three and use of metal detectors required to search for UXO during the fourth week of training.

Once the participant completes the course they will have received over 200 hours of traditional classroom training combined with field exercises. Due to the large amount of study and hands-on proficiency testing, not all students successfully complete this UXO Technician course. 

“Successful completion of the TEEX UXO Technician course requires a high level of dedication and sacrifice,” said Nathan Sivils, the director of Blinn’s Fire Science program. “These guys have really got to be focused on what they’re doing. You’ve got to be a person who is very knowledgeable and has a real desire to do this type of work because it’s not for everybody.

You cannot have people who do not pay close attention to detail.”

Students interested in learning about the program can contact either Blinn’s Fire Science program at 979-209-7557 or nathan.sivils@blinn.edu.  TEEX program personnel can be contacted by phone at 800-423-8433 or publicsafety@teex.tamu.edu. It is recommended that military veterans contact Blinn so they can apply for student loans and government benefits, while civilians should contact TEEX for more information.