From beats to bombs

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
He was living the dream; studying to become an audio engineer at college living close to family and friends in his hometown of Charles Town, WV.

Now, he is stationed in Ramstein, Germany as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal technician where he prepares for his first deployment.

"I was going to college to turn a hobby I loved into a career, but the longer I stayed the less enjoyable it was," said Senior Airman Andrew Nichols, 86th EOD journeyman. "Instead of ruining a hobby I loved, I decided to join the military instead."

Nichols didn't want just any job. He wanted something challenging, full of excitement and would impact others.

"When I was going through the list of careers fields to pick from I saw EOD," Nichols said. "After doing research I saw it had everything I wanted. From the washout rate to the robotics I get to use, everything appealed to me, especially the explosives. What guy doesn't enjoy explosives?"

Once he completed training, Nichols received orders to Turkey and then to Germany, spending more than two years away from everything he knew.

"Being away from loved ones can be difficult at times and of course you miss America, but it's a once in a life time opportunity," Nichols said. "I try not to dwell on the things I miss and try to focus on learning the culture and taking advantage of any opportunity presented to me."

Though the West Virginia native has been away from family and friends for so long, he still receives support from everyone he loves.

"My parents understand what I do because I talk to them about everything from the good to the bad," Nichols said. "I still get all the support I could ask from them. Even though they aren't here, I know they are proud and happy that I enjoy what I do, that's all that matters."

While Nichols knew this was the job for him, it took years of continuous physical and mental training, to prepare himself to enter a combat zone, clearing terrain of threats like improvised explosive devices.

"Over 30 Air Force EOD technicians have made the ultimate sacrifice since 2012," said Staff Sgt. Eric Farley, 86th EOD NCOIC of training. "While training helps, it still takes a certain personality to be willing to stand inches away from something made to destroy lives. There isn't much room for mistakes, and I feel every technician has to have the common sense needed to assess any situation and be able to come up with a solution."

Although Nichols' skills and knowledge improves with training, it is his imagination he once used in collage that helps him defuse bombs in the field.

"Technicians also need to be very creative," Farley continued. "While we try to train for anything and everything, you never know what could happen in the field. I say with confidence that Nichols is one of the most creative individuals I have ever met. He is always trying to learn how to do his job better, and it's that determination that will save, not only his life, but countless others as well."

Though Nichols had years of training to get where he is today, he must now prepare himself emotionally for what awaits him on his deployment.

"I knew when I enlisted that deploying is something I wanted to do," Nichols said. "It was the reason I joined. Finally having the opportunity to go is relieving and at the same time exciting, scary, nerve-wrecking and just a roller coaster of emotions, but above all I'm happy I finally get to do what I was trained to do."

Even though it took realizing that his passion in audio couldn't be a career, it was the start that led Nichols to do what he loves today; volunteering to protect lives he may never know and being the first line of defense against a near invisible threat capable of ending everything in seconds.