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Beyond 'The Hurt Locker'

Actor Jeremy Renner in a scene from "The Hurt Locker," directed by Kathryn Bigelow, which won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards on Sunday. (AP)

Six Academy Awards for “The Hurt Locker” Sunday night, including an Oscar for Best Picture. Then the cast and crew went off to party.

But the bomb-defusing work depicted so powerfully in the film never ends in Iraq and Afghanistan.

IEDs — “improvised explosive devices” — have been the number-one killer of American troops in both wars. They make every step a potential last step. They slow and enervate soldiers ready to charge and fight.

This hour, On Point: Beyond “The Hurt Locker” to the real battle against IEDs.


Joining us from Fredricksburg, Va., is Kevin Lutz, retired Army Colonel who was the top officer overseeing the military’s EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) work in Iraq from 2006 to 2009. He led the 52nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group, members of which are portrayed in “The Hurt Locker,” and led Task Force Troy, fighting IEDs at the height of the Iraq War. He’s served three combat tours, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been awarded two Bronze Stars. He’s now executive vice president of A-T Solutions, a company focusing on global counter-terrorism efforts.

You can read about what Lutz faced in Iraq in a series written by The Washington Post’s Rick Atkinson.

Also from Fredricksburg is Jonathan Hunter, retired Army Captain who served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer in Afghanistan, primarily in the Khost and Kandahar areas. He served with Kevin Lutz in Afghanistan and now works for Allen Vanguard, the company that makes the bomb suits featured in “The Hurt Locker.” He works on anti-IED systems and briefs Congress on the latest technologies.

From Arlington, Va., is Command Sergeant Major Todd Burnett, the military’s senior enlisted advisor to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). He is the recipient of the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Legion of Merit. He has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has endured 44 IED attacks, 23 of which were direct hits.


We’ve posted statistics on IEDs in Afghanistan from the Department of Defense.

A special thanks today to the EOD Memorial Foundation, which is dedicated to the memory of troops who have served in this line of work. Our gratitude to executive director Jim O’Neil.

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  • cory

    What a horrendous waste of lives and resources. We ought to leave these places… yesterday!

    The individuals who undertake this duty are courageous and heroic by any definition. It is a shame to waste heros on Iraq and Afghanistan. Places where they are widely unwanted and unappreciated.

  • Elizabeth

    I think we should pay these fine service members more than any politician in Washington. These men and women save lives everyday.

  • mike

    Hey Tom,

    Understandably, an EODO might have a large ego given the kind of work these guys do. I wonder if these guys have as much of an ego as what Jeremy Renner portrayed in The Hurt Locker?

  • jack

    don’t they just blow up the IED instead of handling it by hand?

  • Todd

    “I think we should pay these fine service members more than any politician in Washington. These men and women save lives everyday.”
    Posted by Elizabeth

    But gee, without those D.C. politicians, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to “save lives everyday.”

  • Michael Drew

    The movie seemed unrealistic even on its own terms at points; it must seem absurd to people who have been there. That said, judging the value of a movie against the reality it draws from is among the least fruitful endeavors of film criticism a person can engage in. Despite its flaws (the three-man pursuit into dark Baghdad alleys seemed completely extraneous to the fundamental depiction of the tense situation faced by this EOD team, even within the context of the film itself), The Hurt Locker is one of the more compelling films that I have seen coming out of this period of American foreign involvement and security policy.

  • Ben

    re Todd Burnett’s bio: Wow. Just, wow.

  • oddjob1947

    …unwanted and unappreciated…
    Perhaps. IEDs kill Iraqi’s, Afghani’s too. The
    IED teams save all lives….

    On a Historical note, simmilar teams served in
    all nations in all wars. They serve to this
    day picking up the remnants of past wars. Granted,
    the IED teams in Iraq/Afghan are ‘on the edge’ and
    specifically targetted, however the craft has
    ancient roots.


  • John

    As many of these bombs are triggered by cellphones, isn’t it folly for the MBTA to have wired the subway tunnels for cell phone service?

  • Bob

    During the early days of the Iraq invasion we saw tons of captured ordinance in hidden bunkers. But instead of guarding the ordinance,it was ignored. Wasn’t that ordinance the same bombs that were turned into IED’s?

  • Tom

    I am a Viet Nam Vet. I do not go to war movies.
    Yesterday, I heard in the news that more suicides than “combat” deaths occurred during 2010, in both fronts. Your guest commented that multiple tours allowed our service people to “see it through.”
    The daily pressure is not new. The talk of military lifers continues.

  • http://NavyDiverOlympics Curtis Jasa

    One big problem in getting EOD to the next level is that only Navy EOD goes through NAvy Dive school. This is the weed out program. Many of the Army, Marine and Air Force guys wouldn’t make it through. Now we have Navy EOD in theatre in Iraq and Afghanistan on the ground. Unfortunately, Army, Marine and Air Force troops probably wouldn’t be able to make it through dive school.

  • Scott

    Hi Tom. I have a couple comments. Firstly, EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal. I have several close friends in the DOD’s EOD school in Florida and their schedule is as demanding as any service school in our military. They are true professionals and are not the cavalier figures portrayed in the film. While The Hurt Locker highlights the hard work these servicemen and women do, it deserves mention that every servicemember I know who has seen it did not like the movie because it portrayed the Army’s ground Infantry troops as hesitant to face the dangers of IEDs when in actuality it is these ground units who do daily combat missions and take the brunt of causalities in the battlefield.

  • Tracy

    Thank you to these three soldiers and all their teams–I can’t imagine how many American lives they save everyday. And who lives through 44 IED and 23 direct hits–that Command Sergeant Major has got to be a living legend in the Army.

  • http://www.brooksideglassworks.com Joseph Tracy

    There is a tremendous desire for the absolute clarity of a war where we Americans are the heroes and the bad guys are all on the other side. While there is no denying the heroic courage of these soldiers who deal with various explosives, your guests today revealed a problematic dishonesty about their larger role. They are not defending the homeland as they wish to believe. Iraq neither threatened nor attacked nor had the capacity to attack the US. In truth neither did Afghanistan attack the US. The US was attacked by a group of criminal terrorists, not endorsed in their actions by any state.

    What goes unmentioned in this story is the fact that both the US and our allies have been responsible for landmines , misdirected bombing, and cluster bombs known to be attractive to children. Statistically we have taken far more lives in this manner than the Taliban or those in Iraq who resisted the American occupation. Again and again NPR puts on programs ignoring the rights of non-Americans and the injustices of our policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and justifying our military interventions and our human rights abuses. There are a great many citizens who are sick of this hypocrisy, and there are a great many american soldiers who come back from these ill-conceived adventures injured in body mind and spirit. What good is individual heroism if the war is immoral?

    2 of the first casualties in the initial bombing in Afghanistan were UN bomb disposal experts. Enough with these sick and misdirected wars.

  • justanother

    ****There are a great many citizens who are sick of this hypocrisy, and there are a great many american soldiers who come back from these ill-conceived adventures injured in body mind and spirit. What good is individual heroism if the war is immoral?

    2 of the first casualties in the initial bombing in Afghanistan were UN bomb disposal experts. Enough with these sick and misdirected wars.

    Joseph, can’t agree more!

    It is such a thin line to walk on when hearing the rhetoric — “I’m against the war, but I support the troops”! Amazing! Just what the h*** does that phrase mean?

    Define “hero” for me before we can call anyone’s “look alike” heroic action a “hero”. Militaries are NOT trained to fight for ethic, justice and peace. They are trained to OBEY orders whenever their country needs their service, even when the mission is wrong, offensive, unjustified.

    Having said that, does not take away the respect for individual’s choice to join military for whatever the reasons, they are just doing their jobs.

    It is the politicians and officials approved this unjustified war OWE them and the IRaqis BIG time. And the sad truth is, most likely politicians will trickle down pressure and responsibility on their own citizens for their own wrong doing.

  • Steven Wheatley

    Has there been the use of GIS (geographic information systems) to map and document the placement of explosive devices for the intention of detecting patterns in hopes to predict where they might be placed in the future?

  • Bush’s fault

    If Bush 1, Clinton 1, or Bush 2 had wiped these people out and earned our great satan status, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  • danielle welch

    Thanks to Tom Ashbrook for another sensitive and well-done segment giving equal time to the real people of the military.

  • Michael

    “If Bush 1, Clinton 1, or Bush 2 had wiped these people out and earned our great satan status, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

    promoting genocide, and murder sounds like a terrorist to me

    what a scumbag,

  • justanother

    Yeah, Oscar should have given 2010′s “Best Picture” & “Best Director” to Bush & Cheney! What a fine film they both put together!

  • 1SG David Rye

    HOOAH for route clearance!! Nice job CSM. We Sappers enjoyed your visit and input. Husky 3

  • sandra dow

    Dear tom, I usually listen to you when i visit my dad in CT, but we do not get your program in denver, even though I’ve contacted them about your show. Imagine my delight when I discovered last month I can listen to you on my computer! (ok, i’m older and atech bimbo)I learn so much from listening, esp. about Bernie Madoff and loved the ‘HUrt Locker” program yesterday. What i like is your curiosity, acceptance of opinions, no shouting, sophistication of discourse, if you will. I will now contribute to NPR. you are as good as Amy Goodman of Democracy now. sandra Dow Denver

  • http://www.west-point.org/users/usma1951/18250/Preview.htm J. A. “Andy” Chacon

    I am a WW II Navy Aviation Ordnaceman 2/c who was schooled in sophisticated explosives and arms of the era. Then after West Point flew 46 night intruder combat missions over North Korea. After my military service I became a weapons development engineer at Sandia Corporation with responsibility for the quality of several atomic weapons systems in our arsenal. The IED’s have made atomic weapons obsolete in my opinion. The terrorists do not need atomic weapons to accomplish their goals. What a turn around!!!

  • Mike Singleton

    Am I the only one who unfortunately wanted to see this movie in it’s entirity but had to leave with terrible motion sickness after the first 20 minutes because the camera shots could not stay in one place for more that 2 seconds. I understand the realistic effects made by such camera work but one with motion sensitivity can only take so much. I wish I could contribute more than this to the discussion!!!!

  • Cynthia

    In answer to: justanother, on March 9th, 2010 at 1:08 PM
    Good question/comment. What does it mean to be a part of this war even if we didn’t support it? My son has been re-activated and deployed this week. He enlisted against my wishes when he was 19; now he’s 23, married, and “out” of the military. Things change for these young people and everyone’s experience is different. So, as they say, it’s complicated.

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