“Two hundred and fifty years after the Revolutionary War, we still get calls for cannonballs in the northeast,” says two-time graduate of the University of Arizona Global Campus Steven “Rex” O’Connor, who has one of the most unique and dangerous jobs in the U.S. Army.

As an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) technician, Rex is tasked with disarming deadly devices, a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.

In his role, he is responsible for rendering safe procedures for new weapons, which he tests before the Army puts them to use. He also ensures dangerous weapons can’t harm his brothers and others.

“I disarm every type of weapon that potentially kills or destroys property, such as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive hazards,” he explains.

But the work he and his team handle aren’t always on the battlefield.

In one story, he recalls a time when scavengers broke into an impact area in El Paso, Texas, and were attempting to steal military ordinance to sell at a salvage yard. Unfortunately for the thieves, one blew up in their hands. So, he was called out to do a full operation and sweep the area to destroy anything that was active and make sure the area was safe.

“Police are not equipped to handle those things, and we get called out for those types of situations all throughout the United States.”

Balancing a full-time military career with college commitments — not to mention a marriage and three young boys — is an incredible challenge, but Rex never succumbed to the pressure.

“I’m begrudgingly a workaholic,” he admits.

That attitude is only part of what makes him successful. As his 14 years of active-duty military experience shows, Rex performs well under pressure and is always eager to pass along the lessons he’s learned to those in his company.

Left, Steven "Rex" O'Connor poses with his father, Larry, after graduating from EOD school ; Right, Rex's oldest son tries on a bomb suit Rex wears while on the job.

A Familial Calling

Rex didn’t enter the military until he was 25. He says he wanted to gain a civilian perspective first and grow more as a person before enlisting. But it was always part of the plan. Finally, it was 2010. The recession hit, and it was the height of the Iraq war, so he felt like it was the right time. Once he was ready, he fully committed and was eager to see what he would learn from the experience.

When he joined the U.S. Army, Rex knew his service would provide a benefit that would help him pay for college.  But equally important was following in the footsteps of his father, who was also an EOD technician.

Having grown up in a military family, Rex knew what kind of life was ahead of him. Born in Alaska, he spent his early years bouncing from New York, to California, and then Arizona. Later, he enlisted in the Army following a five-year job at Coca-Cola as a merchandiser, and his military career took him from Alabama to Florida, Colorado, and later Texas. During his time in the service, he has also been deployed to the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

With so much moving around, Rex knew he would need to earn his college degree online.

He attended another institution during his first deployment and was on his way to earning an associate degree in entrepreneurship when he had an epiphany.

“I realized, ‘Why not go for a full bachelor’s degree?’” he recalls. Of course, juggling his responsibilities as a serviceman, father, and husband took priority, and he would attend college on and off for a total of 12 years before he finished his Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management at UAGC in 2021. Soon after, he jumped into a master’s degree, and in January 2024 he earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from UAGC.

“You’re intrinsically motivated to work as well as also try to better yourself, which is probably why I went back to college, to really set myself apart and advance in the military,” he notes.

So, how does one go from explosives to business?

Rex points to his communication skills, which he says “skyrocketed” during his service. More important, however, he started to understand the one trait he says transcends the military and business, the one every organization would be looking for once he was ready to re-enter civilian life: leadership.

“The military is fantastic as far as leadership goes, and I think a lot of that really coincided, especially with my organizational management degree,” he explains. “My MBA really translated while I was here at this assignment because it has helped me understand a lot of the budgetary acts aspects as well as project management.”

While he is still on active duty, Rex says he hopes to not only teach future generations of soldiers how to disarm bombs, but to also teach them how to find motivation to make their position and the Army better every day.

“I want to find those capability gaps and fill those,” he says.

A Future Beyond the Military

Family is intrinsic to Rex’s story, and his relationship with his father was a major factor in his decision to become an EOD technician. Sadly, Rex’s father passed away four years ago, a year before he finished his bachelor’s degree. Then COVID happened, and for a time, life was more challenging than usual.

To get through the tough period, Rex focused on his short-term goals. With his bachelor’s degree in sight, he was taking core classes for his program, which he says were the most enjoyable. Through it all, Rex maintained a 4.0 GPA in both his undergraduate and graduate programs.

Rex continued to soak in the knowledge from his courses and while concentrating on the skills he was gaining, he always had his family in the back of his mind.

Now, with just one year left in the military and two degrees under his belt, Rex says he is ready to use the lessons gleaned from his degree programs to implement his future plans.

In the meantime, Rex is still balancing responsibilities, and his first priority, he says, will always be family.

“I am most proud of my kids,” he says. “My focus in life is to make sure they develop into strong and good men who make a difference and help make this world a better place.”

Beyond home, Rex wants to take his expertise to the next level. As someone with an intricate understanding of explosives, he wants to be the leader that others rely on when it comes to developing “safe and accurate” weapons.

“I’d like to take that skill set and move to the F.B.I. or the State Department and continue what I’m doing — utilizing my degrees to give myself a leg up going forward.”


Student success stories should not be interpreted as a promise or guarantee of career advancement or future earnings. The stories shared here represent the outcomes of individual students for illustrative purposes only.  
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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