‘It was amazing how quickly you transition to the lifesaving training’

Gerig honored with Outstanding Achievement Award after his efforts helped save life of Senegalese woman

When David Gerig enlisted in the Air Force 22 years ago, he immediately knew what he wanted to do.

“The military has teams that specialized in removing and disposing of dangerous explosives, and I was attracted to that work because you save life rather than take life,” the Bolivar, Ohio, native explained.

Master Sgt. David Gerig working with his counterparts in Thailand.

These teams are called Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams, and they are comprised of specially trained technicians who remove or neutralize explosives everywhere in the world, or train indigenous military forces to do the same.

The Air Force was the only service branch that presented Gerig with the opportunity to join such a team immediately.

“I liked the challenge,” said Gerig, who became part of the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst EOD team in April 2023. “In our line of work, it is initial success or total failure.

“Every explosive is different, and it’s like putting together pieces of a puzzle. I look at a device and have to figure out how to defeat it. You really have to face your fears in this line of work.”

Master Sgt. Gerig and his teams have traversed the globe working as part of the Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Mine Action program, which sends these teams to countries plagued by a persistence of land mines. The U.N. identifies 70 such countries, mostly in the Middle East and Africa.

The Red Cross estimates there are 60 million land mines in the ground around the world today.

The challenge is that millions of these life-threatening land mines are not planted on battlefields. They are planted in farmlands, open fields, roads and civilian neighborhoods. Estimates vary as to how many people are killed or maimed by land mines each year, but the U.N. puts the figure at 5,500.

During his more than two decades in the Air Force, Gerig has been to countries as far ranging at Kosovo, Zambia, Peru, Ethiopia, Cambodia and Thailand.

The work goes beyond removing explosives. Gerig’s teams also train military and security forces in the basic principles and procedures of EOD operations, and best safety practices in stockpiling and deposing of munitions.

The HMA platform also provides education and training to those communities impacted by land mine tragedies and support to victims of land mine explosions.

“You get to learn about other cultures,” Gerig said, “and one of the things you see is how they do things with a minimum of resources. When we work with these countries, we find ways to help them make the tools they will need to practice on the explosives.”


While there is no way to calculate how many lives Gerig and his colleagues have saved, there is one life he recently saved that brought him considerable notoriety, and it had nothing directly to do with clearing land mines.

Gerig was in Senegal last year as one of the military representatives of a team assessing the country’s stockpile of explosive ordnance.

“We were walking at one of the bases when we heard a blood-curdling scream,” Gerig said.

One of his Senegalese counterparts rushed off to a dorm where the scream originated and returned quickly out of breath.

Gerig asked if he could help. His counterpart said yes.

The men rushed back to the dorm. There was a woman on the ground convulsing, Gerig recalled. She was straddled by two other females — both trying to help her.

“She was having a seizure,” Gerig said. “After I was able to get the two women to move, I turned the convulsing woman on her side. I used my finger to clear her throat. She had been choking on her own vomit. After a while, she quieted down, and she was okay.”

For his effort that day, and upon the recommendation of his Senegalese counterparts, Gerig was awarded the Air Force’s Outstanding Achievement Award.

Recipients of this award are recognized for outstanding achievement or for meritorious service rendered on behalf of the Air Force.

“It was amazing how quickly you transition to the life-saving training you received when you entered the military,” Gerig said.


When his time in the military comes to an end, Gerig hopes he can keep himself in the same arena by working in diplomatic circles or for an international organization.

“It has been an honor to serve our country and I have enjoyed every day in the military — even the toughest ones, and there have been a few of those,” he said. “You get a perspective here you can’t get anywhere else.”