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Huntington veteran seeks to prevent IED casualties

Two- year-old Chesterfield resident Erza Phillips examines the robot that scouts out Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) during a recent talk given by Master Sgt. Gregory Pauli of Huntington, left, at the Worthington Council on Aging in honor of Veterans Day
Ezra's father, Daniel Phillips, was awarded a Purple Heart at age 20 after he was injured by a mortar that exploded two feet from him.
LAURA RODLEY

Two- year-old Chesterfield resident Erza Phillips examines the robot that scouts out Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) during a recent talk given by Master Sgt. Gregory Pauli of Huntington, left, at the Worthington Council on Aging in honor of Veterans Day Ezra's father, Daniel Phillips, was awarded a Purple Heart at age 20 after he was injured by a mortar that exploded two feet from him. LAURA RODLEY Purchase photo reprints »

Air Force Reserve Master Sgt. Gregory R. Pauli is a man on a mission. He wants to prevent injuries such as those sustained by his wife, Lisa Pauli, who was severely wounded in 2007 by an improvised explosive device, or IED, while serving with Army counterintelligence in Afghanistan. Gregory Pauli, 31, of Huntington, and Springfield resident Ray Mateo, 32, spoke Nov. 12 at a Worthington Council on Aging luncheon honoring town veterans.

There, Pauli recounted how he met his future wife while they were both stationed in an area of Afghanistan where there was an ongoing conflict between two local groups. She was injured shortly after that, on June 1, 2007, when an IED exploded near her. The blast pushed the two lower leg bones of one leg into her kneecap.

“The doctors were not sure if she would ever walk again,” said Gregory Pauli. He completed his deployment six months later and the couple married soon afterward. Lisa Pauli is now walking, but still faces more surgery.

While his wife’s experience is at the core of his mission, Gregory Pauli’s interest in explosives disposal began before meeting her. He had already attended the Explosive Ordnance Disposal(EOD) Preliminary Course in Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and the Naval School for EOD at Eglin Air Force Base, near Valparaiso, Fla. Mateo graduated from the same course in August.

Trained to work with robots that scout out IEDs, Pauli spent six months with a team walking around Afghanistan wearing an 85-pound insulated “bombsuit.” One member carried the 45-pound-plus robot on his back. The second member carried a “jammer” to block cellphones signals.

“If you get too close (to a cellphone) it might send a positive signal to the robot,” Pauli said.

When the team found an explosive device, he said, they set about defusing it, a much safer option than simply blowing it up.

“When you are asked to get rid of an explosive device, whether it’s an IED or something else, you have to consider there might be secondaries (more explosive devices),” he said.

The robot goes first followed by a check of the “active area,” he said. “If I feel comfortable walking here, you should feel comfortable walking here.”

Gregory Pauli is now an EOD craftsman assigned to the 439th Civil Engineer Squadron at Westfield’s Barnes Air National Guard Base. His training is used overseas and stateside, where he checks areas where bombing practice took place during World War II and the Vietnam War to make sure the sites are safe for use.

“The reason we have this is so now when we go to war we can prevent the injuries that happened to my wife,” he said. “I want to be ready for the next time you go and serve.”

•••

Another veteran speaks

When World War II veteran David Gifford of Williamsburg received his diploma from the Longy School of Music in Cambridge in 1942, he knew he would have to go into the Army. Gifford, 91, talked recently at his Nash Hill Place home about his experiences serving in the military from 1942 to 1946.

After completing basic training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi and subsequent training at Fort Custer in Minnesota, he shipped overseas to England with 150 other men as part of the 355th Military Police Escort Guard. After two weeks, he was on his way back to the states with a boatload of 2,000 German prisoners of war, all soldiers who had surrendered, he said.

On board, the prisoners were not troublesome, he recalled.

“One was very fluent in English,” he said. “He told me one time, ‘I won’t run off. I’m glad to be here.’ ” Gifford was deployed again, this time to an Army camp near Zirndorf, a village outside Munich, Germany, and later near Le Mans, France, where he again guarded POWs.

Due to poor eyesight, Gifford was assigned “limited service” and did not engage in combat. Nonetheless, he became the company armorer due to his acquired gun skills. “When I was in the 355th, I caught onto weapons quicker than the other guys,” he said, especially small guns and machine guns. “I played close attention; the other guys didn’t.”

Laura Rodley can be reached at lrodley.gazette@gmail.com.

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