Corps team in Afghanistan destroying unserviceable, excess munitions
August 8, 2013
As U.S. forces draw down from Afghanistan, a program managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, is busy destroying unserviceable and excess munitions.
Joint Munitions Disposal -- Afghanistan has drawn from the experience of previous Center programs that collected both enemy and coalition munitions for destruction in Iraq and has used that experience to streamline operations in Afghanistan, said Chase Hamley, one of the JMD-A project managers.
"All joint service munitions in Afghanistan that are considered excess or unserviceable are disposed of by detonation or burning," Hamley said. "In some cases, it's not economical to bring munitions back, and we don't want anything to fall into the wrong hands."
Since April 2012, JMD-A has destroyed more than 1,600 tons of unserviceable munitions and the process will continue until our services are no longer needed, Hamley said.
The process of collecting, securing, sorting, labeling and safely destroying munitions involves two deployed Center employees, currently Brian McComas and Frances Reilly, the invaluable reach-back expertise of the Center, and more than 70 employees from the contract firm, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology (EODT), based in Lenoir City, Tenn.
Disposal capabilities are set up to match the various types of munitions and where they are located, Hamley said. A small arms incinerator has the capability to destroy rounds commonly used in individual and crew-served weapons up to .50 caliber.
Open burn methods are used for propellants and combustible materials, and open detonation, called a "shot," is the disposal method used to destroy large quantities of munitions in remote areas. Mobile disposal teams are available to travel anywhere in the country, eliminating the risks associated with transporting large quantities of unserviceable or excess munitions over long distances, Hamley said.
"Normally we will set up at an ammunition supply point where inventory is sorted and marked, and before the process starts, we'll inventory and sign for all the munitions we're going to destroy," he said.
The streamlined process involves building munitions to be destroyed into boxes while the team is still inside of a secure perimeter. Excess materials are removed, and technicians prepare the shot based on their knowledge of explosives disposal, Hamley said.
"Setting up the shot allows us to work in a secure area where we can build the munitions into the proper configuration and ensure a complete detonation without concern of insurgent activity," Hamley said.
Senior safety and explosive ordnance disposal technicians monitor the setup, transport and detonation of the munitions performed in remote areas with significant security measures in place, including perimeter security support from U.S. forces and security specialists from the contract firm, Hamley said.
Handling munitions in a combat zone still involves danger, even when steps to reduce risk are in place.
"The most difficult challenge, as in any conflict area, is the ability to safely access destruction locations off military installations where many disposal events must occur," said Nicholas Iaiennaro, EODT program manager. A company team was the target of an improvised explosive device attack earlier this year resulting in two casualties.
Another challenge is to keep local nationals who are searching for scrap materials out of the disposal area during operations and immediately after operations, until the area has been declared safe from hazards, Iaiennaro said.
"These tasks are vital for the closure of operating bases and the ultimate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan," he said.