A cloud of heat and smoke erupts from the wreckage after a 1,500 pound explosive detonated on the range at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during an exercise in September. A Navy admiral ordered the unofficial motto "Initial Success or Total Failure" to be removed from classroom walls at the EOD school where military bomb technicians learn their craft. (Samuel King Jr. / Air Force)
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PENSACOLA, Fla. — The school where bomb technicians from all branches of the U.S. military learn their craft has been ordered to remove the unofficial motto "Initial Success or Total Failure" from its classroom walls.
Rear Adm. Michael Tillotson told school leaders this month that the motto could be viewed as disrespectful to the hundreds of Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians who have died in the line of duty.
"The motto itself holds potential insensitivities and implies that our fallen and wounded EOD Warriors have somehow failed," Tillotson, who is based in Norfolk, Va., said in a memo to the Florida school.
"Throughout history many EOD techs from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, other U.S. government and civilian agencies, as well as foreign partners have lost their lives or been wounded in the line of duty. To imply that they failed is insensitive and disrespectful. We owe our fallen warriors and their families honor and dignity for their heroic service," the admiral said in a prepared statement.
Officials said the admiral is especially concerned about the hundreds of family members who visit the school each spring for a memorial to military bomb technicians who have died in the line of duty the previous year.
The school will add the names of at least 17 of its graduates to its memorial wall when it holds its annual ceremony this May, said Ed Barker, a spokesman for the Naval Education and Training Command that over sees the EOD school at Eglin Air Force Base. The elite school trains EOD techs for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and is among the toughest schools in the military.
The admiral's mandate was not popular with some current and former EOD members. A Facebook page has been dedicated to keeping the motto. They wrote on the Facebook page that the motto reminds them of the life or death consequences of their jobs.
"The motto is not about the individual, it is about the mission, and when you are dealing with an explosive device you generally get one shot to render it safe," Will Pratt, a former Army EOD technician, wrote in an email to the Northwest Florida Daily News newspaper of Fort Walton Beach.
Barker said many of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were killed by remotely detonated devices, and there is nothing they could have done to prevent the bomb from exploding in the seconds before someone triggered it.
He said the admiral is sensitive to this and doesn't want anyone to imply that these EOD technicians failed in their mission.
"That's something they had no control over," he said.
He said the Navy has not ordered EOD members to get rid of personal items with the motto — only official reference to it the school hallways, classroom walls and other public places in the building.
"You can keep individual, personal stuff like coffee mugs," he said.