Air Force conscientious steward of Fort Sill range
February 20, 2014
FORT SILL, Okla. (Feb. 20, 2014) -- When one thinks of recycling at Fort Sill, such things as paper, plastic and aluminum cans may come to mind.
But the Air Force at Falcon Range here takes it to the next level. Their salvage agreements have companies collecting used targets including jet airframes, tanks, vehicles and Sea-Land containers to be scrapped and recycled.
The salvage operations, or residue removal as it is called, keep the Quanah Range impact area clear, and the clean up is free for the government, said Mark Kessens, Falcon Range operations officer.
"We try to be sustainable out here and recycle everything," said Kessens, a retired fighter pilot. "And from a weapons standpoint, by keeping the range clean it also keeps the watershed clean."
Three salvage workers from Kemron Environmental Services, which is based in Atlanta, have been at Falcon Range since Feb. 3, cleaning up and getting rid of unwanted materials.
During their three-week salvage, the workers expect to collect between 200 to 300 tons of scrap metal, said John Stine, Kemron director of salvage and range services.
The salvage does not cost the DoD any money, Stine said. Up until about five years ago, companies were charging the government to breakdown and remove materials, and they then would sell the scrap.
"Kemron saw the value of offering the service to the government at no cost, and by getting the work our reward is the salvage material," said Stine, who is a retired Air Force explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) specialist. "The salvage market has held up well enough that we can do that."
The 15,000-acre Falcon Range entrance is three miles west of the highways 62 and 115 intersection. It is operated by the 301st Fighter Wing with a memorandum of agreement with the Fires Center of Excellence.
The range is one of the busiest Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard ranges, and in fiscal 2013, it led ranges with 2,520 sorties, Kessens said.
Soldiers and Airmen here use it for the Joint Terminal Attack Controller training, and Joint Fires Observer Course. It's also used by the Marine Corps, Canadian military and this week Singaporean airmen will be using the range with helicopter operations.
Before salvage crews can go into impact areas, the range's unexploded ordnance (UXO) technician, and its EOD specialist clear the area. Although live bombs are not dropped at Quanah Range (that's done on West Range), BDU-33 training bombs containing phosphorous charges for impact visibility are dropped and 20mm bullets are fired on targets. And, the range was a field artillery impact area until the mid-1980s.
"We look for anything from small UXOs to ordnance," said Donovan Mills, UXO tech. "The most common thing we find is the BDU-33."
If a UXO is discovered it is turned over to the 761st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company for destruction, Kessens said.
A heavy equipment operator using a track excavator was slicing-and-dicing an F-4 Phantom jet Feb. 13. As the shovel chopped through the cockpit the plane's tail elevator worked up and down like death kicks ending a career that probably included blowing apart MiG's.
A DoD instruction requires the range's used aircraft and vehicles must be broken apart before they can leave the range, said Bryan Baker, range control officer.
"That's what this company (Kemron) is doing making them completly unusable as a weapon," said Baker, a retired Air Force EOD tech.
This haul included four Phantoms, an A-7 Corsair II jet, a Fiat tank, a semi trailer-size fuel tank, cranes and heavy load equipment.
The aircraft scrap is called dirty aluminum because it has wires, fibers and other materials mixed in with it, Stine said.
"It's a very low-grade, low-sale aluminum," he said. "If you're dealing with clean aluminum, it has a much higher value."
All of the salvage workers are heavy equipment operators, and also specialize in other salvage skills. Al Mitchell, cutting torch specialist, is capable of cutting metal 10-inches thick, Stine said.
It's a talent that came in handy to dismantle the old Italian tank whose days as a target are ciao!
Fort Sill Fire and Emergency Services staff graded a firebreak around the tank because of high grass, and Kemron and the range provided fire protection personnel when dismantling the tank was performed, Kessens said.
The Air Force requires its ranges to be completely cleaned every 10 years, or 20 percent every two years, Kessens said. "But we're way ahead because we have EOD on staff and can do it whenever we can," Kessens said. "We're generally cleaning between 25 and 30 percent per year."