Everybody deserves to have a bit of fun… Especially the people putting their lives on the line on a regular basis!
On each 4th December, firefighters, artillerymen, gunsmiths, miners… and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) technicians gather to celebrate Saint Barbara. The young Lady, who was allegedly tortured with fire and eventually beheaded by her father for being a devoted Christian, became in the 12th century the patron saint of every profession involves with cannons, explosives, and everything related to fire.
Nowadays, the 4th of December calls for important gatherings around the globe, from Australia to Canada to Norway to Belgium, Bomb Disposal experts of various armies meet up to venerate the Saint and pay their respects to their fallen comrades.
Teledyne ICM being an historic supplier to the DOVO (Belgian Bomb Disposal Squad), decided to sponsor the Belgian Saint Barbara (“Sainte Barbe”) that was taking place at the Oud-Heverlee barracks in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of the country.
That being said, Greg, Gilles and I decided to drive to the remote military facilities located in the mist of the Flemish woods to see and experience the “so-talked-about” event for ourselves.
A quick 45 minutes ride later, we reached the military building’s gates protected by armed soldiers and mean-looking fences clearly advertising the restricted aspect of the place. Following a surprised and amused look from the guards – noticing our civilian’s clothes – we were let in. My first ever experience within an active military facility had begun!
All the non-functional (hopefully) bombshells and massive missiles that decorated the pathways and entrances of buildings, were quite impressive, a bit thrilling too… and, I have to admit, pretty dawn cool!
After crossing paths with very smiling and helpful soldiers, the three of us shyly made our way to the big white tent that had been erected specially for the celebration.
Once we – the lost civilians – reached the festivity area and found our way to the bar, we introduced ourselves and were warmly welcomed with a hot cup of coffee helping us to start the day fresh.
Quickly settling in my new environment, I noticed the discrepancy in the soldiers’ uniforms and speeches. Following a rapid investigation, I spotted various flags on their shoulders and could distinguish different languages: Dutch, French, English, German, …Czech?
We weren’t just attending a Belgian military meeting. We had been invited to a large gathering of EOD warriors from all around Europe. Sometimes driving 20 hours to meet their fellow bomb-disposal colleagues. The atmosphere of fellowship and brotherhood (although, a few female soldiers were also present) was tangible. You could feel a real and true bond gluing all these professionals together.
The day started with a flora tribute to the fallen EOD combatants who paid the biggest price on duty, followed by the Holy Mass celebrating the whole bomb disposal profession.
This touching and moving homage was then followed by a tasty lunch, composed of a traditional Belgian dish, Flemish beef stew, and copious amount of beer served in mugs decorated with the Teledyne ICM logo and the EOD Battalion blazon.
Once the hunger was all gone, our host, Lieutenant colonel and Commander, invited – in Dutch, French and English – every person present to raise their mugs to Saint Barbara… and so it began!
Very quickly, massive logs, nails and hammers were laid all over the party tent encouraging numerous contests of “who will hammer in the nail in the fewest blows”. A couple beers helping disinhibiting our initials reluctance to join the fun, the three rookies squeezed in the game and started competing for the pride of Teledyne ICM.
Beer kept on coming as the party was soldiering on. When suddenly, Saint Nicolas, patron saint for all the kids in this part of Europe, showed up in his blazing red coat, pointy hat, and golden cane! The saint firmly called out all the EOD members, one by one, to highlight their misfortunes of the year that had just passed. Every time punishing the poor soul with a shot of genever (Dutch gin)!
The festivities carrying on, I could see stronger bonds forming among colleagues from different countries, all gathering around the same joy and pride coming out of their heroic day job.
At some point, I was surprised and amused to see a couple of solders laying out a table, bringing in a few cups, and calling out to the bartender to pour some more beverages… In no time, an improvised Beer Pong Table was proudly standing before my wide opened eyes! “This is going to be fun”, I thought.
Drinks were served, tales were told, and games were played… but all good things must come to an end. Around 6:00 PM, the crowd slowly started to dissolve and only the die-hards remain to officially end the celebrities… for this year at least. The time had also come for the three outcasts to say goodbye to our new friends and be on our way… heads full of memories.
Leaving the barracks, I felt glad to have had been able to witness the brotherhood that emerges from being “in the same boat”. I felt happy to have had all my negative military clichés blasted away by the warmth and kindness of the people we encountered. And finally, I felt, you might have guessed it by now… a bit tipsy!
See you next year, guys!
Marketing & Communication Manager at Teledyne ICM
We would like to, once again, thank the DOVO and Lieutenant colonel, GS Guy DE DECKER, Commander and the Staff of the Belgian EOD Battalion, as well as the Royal Belgian EOD Association, for welcoming us within the walls of their home to share with us one of their most cherished traditions.