Bulldog earns EOD “Master Blaster” distinction for Air National Guard

  • Published
  • By Audra Flanagan
  • 148th Fighter Wing

Mitigating the hazards of explosive materials and other weapons takes courage, precision, and skill.  Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) members take on some of the Air National Guard’s most dangerous missions at home and abroad.

Each year, the Air National Guard selects EOD Airmen for their achievement and contributions to their home unit, major command, and the U.S. Air Force EOD Program. 

148th EOD Superintendent, Senior Master Sgt. Mark Hilleren was selected as the Air National Guard’s 2023 Master Blaster in the Senior Noncommissioned Officer category. 

Hilleren, a 21-year Veteran who’s deployed to the Central Command area of responsibility three times, has orchestrated collaborative training with state, local and federal bomb technicians to enhance cohesion and interoperability. In November, Hilleren gathered bomb technicians from Crow Wing County, Minn., Bloomington Police and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for a counter-Improvised Explosive Device exercise which allowed the agencies to collaborate and exchange tactics and techniques.

“SMSgt Hilleren is a hard charger,” said Chief Master Sgt. Matthew P. Wilt, Air National Guard Civil Engineer EOD Manager. “Mark has tackled the inspection of the ANG EOD program by identifying and helping fix issues at our flights during staff assistance visits.  Mark and the 148th host the “benchmark” of current and future threat training annually with the Advanced EOD Conventional Course at Camp Ripley Training Center, where it has not only been true a total force initiative but also brings in Joint Service personal and state partner nations to train on First Found Ordnance, Mass Demolition Procedures and Protection of Personal and Property.”

Hilleren provided operational expertise on eight response calls and two Very Important Personnel Protection Support Activities (VIPPSA) missions in 2023.  VIPPSA missions provide EOD support to the U.S. Secret Service and Department of State related to the protection of certain U.S. and foreign officials and persons, including the President of the United States. 

In 2018, Hilleren was selected for the Air National Guard Maj. Gen. Eugene A. Lupia Award for his superior technical competence and job performance following a deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operations Freedom Sentinel and Inherent Resolve. 

“Mark's energy and passion for service are unparalleled, extending beyond his duties in EOD,” said 148th Civil Engineering Squadron Commander, Maj. Joe Solberg. “He willingly takes on additional responsibilities within the Civil Engineer Squadron and consistently supports community relations events whenever possible.”  

Hilleren is often seen at events educating community leaders and youth on the Air National Guard and EOD mission. “EOD has obscure missions and incredible opportunities that impact our community,” said Hilleren.  “You don’t fully appreciate how great this job is until you’re here.  If someone is interested in EOD, I’d advise them to dive in head first and trust the process.” 

Hilleren is also an athlete, demonstrating he is fit to fight. He can often be seen running local races from 5Ks to Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon.  He participated and excelled in the 2021 and 2022 Chief, National Guard Bureau Biathlons, both held at Camp Ripley.  In 2022, Hilleren earned gold in both the 10km Sprint and 12.5km Pursuit races in the novice division.

“The distinction of Master Blaster is a tremendous honor in a career field that has so many Senior NCO’s contributing to the over success of the ANG EOD program,” said Hilleren.  “Ultimately, the goal is to ensure our Airmen have the best training and opportunities to ensure they’re prepared to do their job when asked to do so.”