CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — Their job is one of the most dangerous and thankless in the U.S. Army. Famously depicted in the movie, “The Hurt Locker,” explosive ordnance disposal technicians often risk their lives to save the lives of countless others. They are brave, bold, sometimes reckless and a little crazy.
And she is not only one of them; she’s their leader.
First Lt. Janill Castillo, 26, a native of Bronx, N.Y., serves as the commander for Multinational Battle Group East Explosive Ordnance Disposal detachment in Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. Her team is part of the 759th EOD Company, based in Fort Irwin, Calif., and has a unique mission — much different from the typical missions EOD technicians have while deployed.
“Our mission here is to legitimize the (Kosovo Security Forces) EOD as an (unidentified explosive ordnance) response team here in Kosovo,” she said. That means helping train multinational EOD teams and, if the need called for it, responding to ordnance uncovered from the Kosovo War.
Castillo’s job is similar to military police, civil affairs teams, and female engagement teams that already have females serving on the frontlines of combat.
Castillo joined the service as an enlisted soldier after graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in chemical engineering with a concentration in biotechnology. She later went to Officer Candidate School and Basic Officer Leaders Course, where she learned about the EOD field.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to serve my country in a positive way and go into a field that most people do not choose,” she said.
Although this is her first deployment, Castillo understands the importance of being a female commander in such a dangerous and male-dominated career field, especially with the recent focus on women in service.
“It’s a rewarding field, especially for a woman. It’s a challenge to go in to a predominately male field and become their leader, but once you fully understand the field, you get a lot of respect,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to know that women can execute such a high position in EOD.”
The Office of the Secretary of Defense recently notified Congress of the Army’s intent to open 33,000 service positions this April that were previously closed to women. These positions do not include jobs in the 14 military occupational specialties that are currently closed to women, said Col. Linda Sheimo, chief of the Command Programs and Policy Division at the Directorate of Military Personnel Management, Army G-1, in a news release Jan. 24.
This means many women like Castillo will have opportunities to work in fields. She, however, doesn’t believe the transition will be a problem if everyone just does his or her job.
“Being a woman and a leader, your troops want to see you get out and get dirty with your soldiers,” she said. “You have to show them you’re a soldier, and I have to show them that I’m not just (a female) EOD officer, I’m an EOD technician and I can do their job if I have to.”
Her philosophy seems to be working, too, as she has had nothing but success working with her team over the past year.
“They are a great bunch of guys. They are very loyal and respectful, and we always execute any mission that comes our way,” she said.
“It’s great working with her. Since I’ve been an EOD tech longer, I help her with EOD stuff and she helps me with being a leader,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Wohlrabe, detachment noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “There’s never been an issue with her being a ‘female.’ We only ever see a soldier.”
Castillo will spend the next nine months deployed in the Balkans region. Although there have been many titles given to her since deploying, like commander and EOD technician, there is one she is still uncomfortable being called.
“It’s funny, but I don’t consider myself a role model,” Castillo said. “It would be an honor if any woman considered me that and if they want to go into a combat field, all I can say to them is pursue whatever goals you have in life.”