BY KEN LITTLE
Joshua Rickert's military career has been a real-life "Hurt Locker," filled with tense minutes spent neutralizing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
His stateside duties working on presidential security details are no less exciting.
Rickert, 31, is an Air Force technical sergeant currently stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M. He's also the son of Greeneville resident Laurie Root.
"The Hurt Locker," an Academy Award-winning 2008 movie, details the activities of an Army bomb disposal team in Iraq.
That's an apt description of Rickert's job, without some of the film's dramatic flourishes.
"It [the film] is definitely very Hollywooded up. There is a whole lot of action," Rickert said during a recent telephone interview. "What happens with us is, there is a whole lot of waiting around, then 20 minutes of action,"
BRONZE STAR RECIPIENT
Rickert, who has received two Bronze Stars and the Air Force Combat Action Medal for his service during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 8-1/2 years, is very low-key about the dangerous nature of his work.
"There will be some fights, things exploding around you, getting attacked, but it usually ends pretty boring," he said.
Rickert grew up in a military family. His dad, Eric Rickert, is retired from the Air Force.
Sgt. Rickert spent six years in Germany as a youth, and also lived in the Seattle and Tacoma areas of Washington State.
Laurie Root and her husband, Mike Root, have lived in Greeneville for a number of years. Mike Root is an assistant manager at O'Reilly's Auto Parts in Greeneville.
Both are proud of Joshua, especially his mother, who calls him a "hero."
"I'm very proud of my son, but it's scary," Laurie Root said. "He enjoys what he's doing. His faith in God is strong."
Rickert, who is currently assigned to the Air Force 377th Explosive Ordinance Disposal Branch, received his second Bronze Star for actions during his most recent deployment to Afghanistan, which lasted from May to November 2011.
He was recognized "for especially meritorious service."
According to Rickert's award citation, "he contributed to more than 100 route clearance missions, which cleared 18,000 miles of critical supply routes.
The citation adds that Rickert also "disposed of 8,500 pounds of homemade explosives while patroling a 58,000-square-kilometer battle space."
Rickert's "outstanding performance, expertise and dedication to duty greatly contributed to the overall success of the unit's mission during combat operations," according to the Bronze Star citation.
Rickert said he has been deployed twice each in Afghanistan and Iraq, and once in Kuwait. He will mark 10 years in the Air Force at the end of this year.
He loves his job.
"It's a variety of stuff that we do over there," he said
"For the most part, we go out with Army and Marine engineers, and once we find an IED, we will take care of it and defuse it."
Rickert's unit also does emergency response.
"When a patrol finds an IED, they say, 'We need someone to take care of this' and another patrol will take us there, and we will take care of it," he said.
The job sometimes involves travel.
"We also do a couple other missions. Sometimes an IED is in a difficult place to go -- what we call a 'flyaway mission.' We are flown there in a helicopter," Rickert said.
After Air Force basic training, Rickert received training in the mechanical field.
"They gave me a list of jobs that were available," he said.
Defusing IEDs, which were accounting for many casualties among soldiers in the field, was Rickert's choice.
"This one seemed like it would be the most interesting," he said.
Among Rickert's most difficult assignments was defusing "pressure plates" found in a compound during his first tour of Afghanistan.
The battle for Marjah, a Taliban stronghold, was raging.
Rickert was with a battalion of Marines. There were four such IEDs in a space about half the size of a football field, Rickert said.
Stepping on the metal plate set the IEDs off, he said.
"There's been some nerve-racking moments," Rickert said. "I think 'interesting' would definitely be an understatement."
MAKING 'AN IMPACT'
Rickert said he has personally defused more than 400 IEDs during his overseas tours of duty.
"I can't imagine doing anything else in the Air Force. I think it would be too boring," Rickert said. "I do enjoy it a lot."
The most satisfying aspect of the job is the knowledge that his efforts are saving other service members from serious injury or worse.
"I think I do make an impact. When I'm out there doing my job, I'm actually doing something, and it feels like it every IED I take care of. I potentially save some lives," Rickert said.
Some of the IEDs are more sophisticated than others, including devices that are detonated by remote control.
"We have tools that help us. We try to use robots as much as possible. That way it limits the danger to personnel," Rickert said.
Defusing many IEDs involves disconnecting wires that set off the bombs.
"Every device is going to be different," Rickert said.
Rickert said when members of his unit go out on a call, "We always work as a team, usually three people."
Rickert also finds his stateside duties interesting.
He has provided "VIP support" on several occasions, including being part of a detail that sweeps an area for explosives in advance of presidential visits.
Specially trained members of the military such as Rickert assist the U.S. Secret Service on presidential details.
"What we do is make sure the areas are free of explosives," Rickert said.
Rickert was on such a detail during a recent visit by President Barack Obama to New York City, and also does similar work for the president in Washington.
Laurie Root said last week her son was on another VIP support mission, but could not provide other details.
Rickert has only visited Greeneville once, but hopes to return when time allows. He just re-enlisted in the Air Force for four years.
In the interview with The Greeneville Sun, he said he is unsure when his next overseas deployment will come, but he is prepared.
"If they call me, I'm ready to go," he said.