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High-Tech Hide and Seek

November 15, 2010
By Rachel Eisenhower, SIGNAL Connections

Sgt. Kent Byrd, USA, served in Iraq for a year as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) expert but spent much of his free time geocaching. The game challenges participants to use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to locate containers, called geocaches or caches, hidden across the globe by other players. He says the tools and techniques used to succeed in the game are the same skills that save his life in the field.

Currently, more than 1 million active caches exist on all seven continents, and an estimated 4 million to 5 million people play the game. A typical cache contains a logbook and inexpensive items for trading, such as toys or trinkets. Players find the GPS coordinates for a cache online at Geocaching.com, and then use the data to find the location of the hidden box.

Sgt. Byrd discovered the game five years ago when his father, a state wildlife officer in Tennessee, happened upon a geocache while staking out an illegal trap. He showed the discovery to Sgt. Byrd, who went out and found his first cache that same night.

At the time, Sgt. Byrd worked as a firefighter and emergency medical technician. A self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, he had an itch to try something new. When an improvised explosive device (IED) killed a close friend serving in Iraq, Sgt. Byrd looked into joining the military as a member of an EOD unit “to see if maybe I could do my own part to help this, and that’s when I accepted it as a calling,” he remembers.

For the sergeant, known to the geocaching world as JrByrdMan162, the game and his work with the EOD unit go hand in hand. “For me personally, it’s about training my eye to be a little more keen for the unforeseen, which will aid in looking for trip wires and those things that are hazards to EOD personnel when they are actually performing their duties.”

Many hiding techniques used in geocaching also are used with IEDs, he says. “Finding before functioning is what keeps us alive,” he explains, and the trick is looking for the right clues.

In one instance, the sergeant alerted his team leaders to a mortar embedded in plaster that was camouflaged to look like the other rocks in the area. “I would say in that instance, 90 percent of that comes from me geocaching. Geocaching has taught me to look for that knot in the tree that shouldn’t be there or that one rock in the pile of rocks that seems to have been moved lately or just isn’t supposed to be there at all.”

Sgt. Byrd is so passionate about geocaching that he turned himself into a trackable object. In addition to a tattoo of the geocaching logo on his chest, he tattooed a Travel Bug on the back of his calf, which is an image of a bug associated with a specific personal identification number (PIN). That trackable PIN has its own page on Geocaching.com. When a participant spots the Travel Bug on his leg, they can jot down the number and sign the online logbook noting where they saw it.

“It’s a lifestyle,” the sergeant explains, and he hopes to invite other members of the bomb disposal community to join the game. “I like to think that it’s affected my vision of things in my job and kept me safer.”

For more on Sgt. Byrd’s story, watch his YouTube video, titled “Geocaching has Kept Me Safer—The story of one Army Bomb Squad Sgt.

Comments

What a great article. Our Cadette Girl Scout Troop learned about geocaching and thought it was really fun. They earned the High Tech IP badge. So glad to see how it helps in real world situations! Way to go Sgt. Byrd!!

By Lmfries