Lieutenant (Navy) Kevin Okihiro

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Sailor Profile / May 25, 2020

When Lieutenant (Navy) (Lt(N)) Kevin Okihiro arrived at the scene of the small Cornish village of Upton Cross in South West England, he knew he would have to disarm nearly a dozen incendiary improvised explosive devices.

While the moment seemed surreal and unfolded like his training, this was not a drill.

A car mechanic garage’s landlord had stumbled upon the firebombs when arriving at work the morning of August 26, 2019.

“When we got the call I was on duty,” said Lt(N) Okihiro. “We’re held at 10 minutes notice to move, so we have to respond quickly.”

The Royal Canadian Navy clearance diving officer has been posted to the United Kingdom (UK) on a three-year exchange with the Royal Navy Fleet Diving Squadron, to gain experience while acting as the No. 1 Improvised Explosive Device Disposal Operator and bomb disposal team leader on domestic operational taskings in support of UK Civil Authorities.

Over the past year in the UK, Lt(N) Okihiro has responded to 45 calls, but most were historic bombs and mines from the First and Second World Wars. None had been like this, with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) purposefully placed under cars around a car mechanic’s garage.

“When I turned up, the police, the fire service and crime scene investigators were already on scene awaiting my team's arrival.”

After making sure everyone in the affected area had been evacuated and the area was blocked off, Lt(N) Okihiro spoke with the on-scene incident commander to get a better idea of what type of IEDs they had found.

Then, with his fireproof protective equipment on, he approached the first car.

“They were under cars and they were armed incendiary bombs,” said Lt(N) Okihiro. “So, if you made a wrong a movement or were too aggressive there was a chance that you could function one.”

“And because it was a car garage, the entire ground was covered in fuel. So that was a little bit problematic.”

Lt(N) Okihiro says he does not lose sleep over the dangerous nature of his job, although there is always the stress of making sure you do everything right, especially with IEDs, as the level of government and public interest is higher than with war-era bombs.

“The training is excellent,” said Lt(N) Okihiro. “So when I get the opportunity to go out and do something for real, I’m actually kind of excited to go out and do it.”

He moved from car to car at his own pace, calmly and decisively reaching under each one to render each IED safe by hand. Their positioning under cars made reaching some of them awkward.

“It was just a matter of making sure your actions and what you were doing was precise.”

The investigation is still underway, but police have classified the incident as attempted arson, according to CornwallLive.com, the local news outlet.

After clearing each car, he had to search the entire area and worked with crime scene investigators to ensure the site was safe.

“I felt a huge sense of satisfaction on completion of the job. We train for years to become qualified and competent in preparation for something like this. It was really the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

Lt(N) Okihiro was initially drawn to diving rather than disarming explosives.

“I love reading about history, and especially the world wars. That interest is why I chose to major in history at university, and probably what spurred me to join the military in the first place.”

Since joining his team mates in the UK and responding to a variety of calls to disarm anything from hand grenades to 1,000 kg, Second World War-era German bombs, his interest in explosive ordnance disposal has grown.

“The most exciting conventional call I've responded to was just after Christmas, where my team was tasked to dispose of two First World War British mortar bombs filled with Mustard Gas, two miles from Portsmouth Harbour.”

“It's such an amazing experience to put hands on the historical ordnance I read about in my youth, and ultimately be responsible for making them safe,” said Lt(N) Okihiro.

“If I could go back in time and tell my younger self that this would one day be my job I would never have believed it.”

In the UK, legacy historical munitions are found every single day, and a Royal Navy bomb disposal team is dispatched every 18 hours to respond to a callout. This adds up to about 300 calls per year per unit.

“I love this job,” said Lt(N) Okihiro. “I love being on duty, taking tasking calls on the duty operator cell phone, preparing a plan and briefing the team, before departing the base at best speed in a blue-lit, emergency vehicle with 'Royal Navy Bomb Disposal' emblazoned on the sides. Without a doubt, this is the best job I’ve ever had.”