PACAF COVID Webpage

HomeNewsArticle Display

Tourette’s poses no setback for EOD Airman

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kelly Hannum, 51st Mission Support Group deputy commander, dons an Explosive Ordnance Disposal 10 Bomb Suit, May 18, 2020, at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. Despite his setback of Tourette syndrome, which is a nervous system disorder involving repetitive movements or unwanted sounds, his condition didn’t prevent his ability to neutralize bombs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Greg Nash)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kelly Hannum, 51st Mission Support Group deputy commander, dons an Explosive Ordnance Disposal 10 Bomb Suit, May 18, 2020, at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. Despite his setback of Tourette syndrome, which is a nervous system disorder involving repetitive movements or unwanted sounds, his condition didn’t prevent his ability to neutralize bombs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Greg Nash)

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --

Tuning out the pounding of his own heartbeat, nerves tense as a young Air Force explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer disarms bombs in some of Southwest Asia’s most dangerous warzones.

A sudden increased heart rate and blood flow kicks in as adrenaline rush reverberates through his body. Internally, things are chaotic, but the madness is masked by the man’s calm, humorous demeanor, which is a key character trait to his life-saving tactics.

Despite his setback of Tourette syndrome, which is a nervous system disorder involving repetitive movements or unwanted sounds, his physical tics didn’t prevent his ability to neutralize bombs from ‘tick-tick-booming.’

It takes patience, finesse, and skill to make a career out of defusing bombs, and for Lt. Col. Kelly Hannum, doing so while coping with Tourette’s has been no small feat.

“Tourette syndrome is just a part of me, it doesn’t define me,” said Hannum, 51st Mission Support Group deputy commander. “I’m a proud father, husband, military officer, engineer and EOD member – those are the biggest parts of my life that I embrace and want to be defined by.”

Despite noticing behavioral changes as a third grader, Hannum didn’t allow his strange laughs, noises and movements caused by the condition stop his ambitions.

Fueled by his passion of building things and problem-solving stemmed from working alongside his father’s firewood business and emulating 1980s television series’ MacGyver’s improvisation skills, Hannum incorporated these skills throughout his 21-year Air Force career.

Although he’s served multiple roles ranging from civil engineer to an instructor, EOD has been the most rewarding occupation.

“I loved EOD and the opportunity of being around amazing, likeminded people that loved solving problems,” said Hannum. “There’s a thrill of figuring out how to safeguard and remove hazards from dangerous areas. Whether by blowing up threats or securing them to move out of harm’s way, finding out the right way to save lives and protect assets was a rewarding adrenaline rush.”

“The sense of importance and responsibility I felt as an EOD flight commander (downrange) was a unique experience,” Hannum added. “There were a lot of good and bad days but if I could help someone get home safely to their families made it all worthwhile. Those were the happiest moments I got from the job.”

When he wasn’t cutting red wire on explosives or sketching blueprints for infrastructures to be constructed on base, Hannum valued taking time out to raise awareness about his disorder.

“Tourette Syndrome isn’t something I can easily hide, so I decided my best strategy was to be open about it,” said Hannum. “By being open and explaining to people ahead of time what they might see, they are more likely to ask me questions rather than try to speculate about my condition.”

“One of my career’s most amazing experiences came when I was an instructor at the Air Force Civil Engineer School,” Hannum added. “In my introduction to a class of new Civil Engineer officers, I told the students that I had Tourette’s, explained the condition and told them about the tics they might see from me.  During a break, one of the students came up and asked if I really had Tourette.  I said that I did, and he confided that he did as well.”

Citing that Tourette’s has made him a more proactive and engaged leader, Hannum relishes the opportunities to converse and see the 2,800 men and women of the 51st Mission Support Group. Here at Osan, he assists the MSG commander in their objectives on focusing on readiness and ensuring base infrastructure and base services are ready to support the ‘Fight Tonight’ mission.

He also has been heavily involved with a Tourette syndrome support group through the years.

Twenty one years ago, it was hard to imagine what would be in store for Hannum’s pursuit in starting an Air Force career. Although Tourette’s has warranted infrequent instances of members being accepted and deemed fit for duty, Hannum encourages those to try, hoping that his story will be a beacon of light for anyone overcoming the challenges of Tourette’s.

USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.