JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
“I mean obviously getting blown up six days before coming home, those are the days I don’t forget,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Donnan, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron Explosives Ordnance Disposal team lead. “I'm never going to forget.”
Before the blast
At 17 years old, Donnan decided to join the military and initially wanted to join the Air National Guard as a security forces member as he thought this would secure him a slot in his dream job as a federal agent. However, after finding no open military police positions, his recruiter recommended Donnan speak with an EOD Airman.
Donnan took her advice and went with his father to meet a senior master sergeant who had roughly 20 years of experience and multiple deployments as an EOD member.
“My dad knew the minute that he asked ‘do you want to drive a robot?’, that was the minute he knew he lost me to EOD,” exclaimed Donnan. “I said ‘heck yeah I want to drive a robot’ and I signed up immediately.”
After graduating basic training and finishing technical training school, Donnan reunited with his guard unit where he received 90 days of training. As an Air National Guardsman, Donnan found it difficult to acquire all the training needed to gain certification in his career field. But, it was 2008, and opportunities to deploy and go on active orders were plentiful as troops shipped out to Iraq and Afghanistan.
After consistently searching for ways to stay on active orders or deploy, Donnan finally got word that he would deploy to Afghanistan in 2012.
While on his deployment, Donnan was attached to a quick response force allowing him go on over 130 combat missions.
“What we do, it just happens to be when something bad happens. We are dealing with explosives,” said Donnan. “When something does happen, it's pretty catastrophic, whether it's losing a limb or possibly being killed in action.”
That possibility became a reality for Donnan, just six days before he was supposed to go home.
“It’s funny, the number two (on the team) told me that during the winter (in Afghanistan) nothing ever happens,” he said.
Donnan’s team was called out to a post-blast after a vehicle was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device. When their vehicle was within a hundred feet of that vehicle, it was hit by an IED.
“I was up in the turret for the about-50-pound blast underneath our vehicle that went off. I still have things that kind of reflect what happened like my memory loss and issues that I have that came from getting blown up. I deal with them on a daily basis,” explained Donnan. “But it honestly was a great deployment for me. I truly do love this job.”
According to Donnan, EOD member are perceived as “jokesters’ and light, but when it come to their job, they are very serious, as it is extremely dangerous. For Him, although it is dangerous and you can get hurt, the job is really about saving lives.
“Every IED (you) take away is saving someone, whether it's a local national, whether it's U.S. military or whether it's a foreign military. It's saving someone from being blown up in a vehicle and actually suffering any physical injuries,” said Donnan. “You know by taking that out, by not allowing an IED to actually go off the way it's supposed to go, you know you're saving something (and someone), that is a great feeling.
Although his vehicle was unexpectedly struck and he received a Purple Heart, changing his life forever, it didn’t change his mind about the job he chose to do. He knew he still wanted to become an active duty Airman, so after only a week back in the U.S., Donnan took steps towards his future.
“The minute I got back to the states, I knew this is all I wanted to do. I immediately went and saw a recruiter,” said Donnan. “There were some hiccups because of having prior service injuries and being blown up but after a year of pursuing that I finally got active duty orders.”
While Donnan credits this deployment for shaping him into the technician he is today it was more than his comrades and the training that brought him to where he is now. The blast that would break some became an eye opener for more than his work life.
At the time of Donnan’s deployment, he was in a committed relationship with his girlfriend Julie. He knew, since she stuck by him through the deployment, and the IED blast, that she was right for him.
“Honestly one of the reasons why we got engaged is because she survived that deployment, and it was a tough deployment,” said Donnan. “It was my first one and it was a tough one, but she survived it. When I got back and told her I want to go active duty, she supported me.”
For Donnan, having that significant other helped him then, as well as now, especially when times get tough.
“A lot of us have friends that have been killed. Those anniversaries come up, and sometimes you get bummed out during that week. That's one of the things when you have a spouse that they understand,” he explained. “They'll support you through those timeframes because they come up every year. Having that spouse that you can vent and talk to definitely helps quite a bit.”
According to Donnan, through not only the support of his wife Julie Donnan, who is now a captain in the U.S. Air Force, but the support of his family, he has found a job that he truly loves.
“They know, I think my wife knows too, the only way I'm ever going to end this job is whether I get injured, I retire or if I end up getting killed. That's probably the only way I'm ever going to stop,” said Donnan with a smile. “That's how important it is to me, I'm going to do this until I can't do it anymore.”