By Liv Stecker
Nick Sprovstoff didn’t have the usual pre-graduation insecurities that a lot of high school seniors deal with. He knew exactly where he was headed after high school and had it all planned out. Straight from mortarboard to Marine boot camp, young Sprovstoff didn’t waste any time joining up to serve his country, something his parents and coaches at the time said he was fully committed to. Serving for ten years in the Marine Corps through deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sprovstoff, or “Sprotty” to his friends, spent the last part of his service as an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) Technician assigned to the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), out of Camp Pendleton, California. During his last deployment in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, Sprotty and fellow EOD Tech Sgt. Christopher Diaz were both killed by hidden IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device).
On his fifth deployment, and only a month before he was scheduled to return home to his wife, daughter and soon-to-be born second child, Staff Sgt. Sprovstoff and his team has successfully disposed of more than 40 IEDs in the area when things went wrong on September 28, 2011. When one of the IEDs that Sprotty tried to detonate remotely failed, he doubled back to check it, and ran into another hidden IED. He was mortally wounded, but his teammates and a Navy Corpsman on scene rushed to his aid, only to detonate two more IEDs, killing Sprotty, two other marines and severely injuring the Corpsman.
“Many people are impressed when they learn about the brave work of EOD warriors, yet find it difficult to understand exactly what it is that their job entails,” Nicole Motsek, executive director of the EOD Warrior Foundation explains on the foundation website. “...Raising awareness about their work is one of the most important things we can do. In current conflicts, bombs known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are responsible for the majority of fatalities and severe injuries to our troops. Without EOD warriors, many more would die as a result of these dangerous weapons.”
From September 11, 2001 to July of 2016, 131 EOD Technicians have been killed in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 250 EOD Techs have suffered life altering injuries in the field. EOD Techs serve on the front line of the front line, running a safety buffer for our troops on the ground, performing a dangerous, but life-saving mission.
Sprotty left behind his young wife, Tasha, and their little girl Lanie. On November 9, 2011, just a few weeks after his untimely death, Tasha gave birth to a son, Nicholas Tank Sprovstoff. Tasha found support and hope in the months and years following her husband’s death in the form of the EOD Warrior Foundation, for which she became an ambassador in 2016.
In addition to all of the support the the foundation provides for Gold Star Families and keeping the memory of fallen EOD Warriors alive through the memorial wall at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida, the EOD Warrior Foundation is also building a support network for the quickly rising Silver Star Spouse - the ones left behind after their EOD Warrior commits suicide.
As military suicide rates climb beyond the oft-quoted “22 A Day,” EOD Tech suicides are now quickly gaining in numbers on line-of duty deaths for their deployed teammates. As recently as August 23 of this year, Senior Airman Joseph Connors of the 812th Civil Engineer Squadron, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight, took his own life at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was 23 years old. EOD Techs in the field see the worst that the war has to offer. Air Force Sgt. Chris Ferrell has 26 stars tattooed on his arm, representing buddies killed in action.
"Every one of them were killed by IEDs," he says in an interview with Military Times in 2016, "For every IED you disarm, you save between one and 10 lives, but there is always another one you cannot take care of that gets hit. There becomes a point where it haunts your nightmares and it haunts your thoughts during the day."
The bravest of the brave are facing a new enemy after they return home from the war. The EOD Warrior Foundation is determined to be there for the ones who are left behind, haunted by these losses in the field. Founder Ken Falke, a former EOD Tech, calls the rising statistic “an epidemic.”
"We are a small community; we have only 7,000 people on active duty.” says Motsek, who is married to an EOD Tech, “During some months, it has been every week that we have lost someone. There are so many people out there with the invisible wounds of war and they are a part of our EOD community. We cannot wait and hope they get help, we have to do something now to help them."
For more information visit eodwarriorfoundation.org or find EOD Warrior Foundation on Facebook.