Chemical Soldiers visit Anniston Activity, incinerator
August 14, 2009
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, ANNISTON, Ala. (August 14, 2009) - Eleven U.S. Army Chemical Corps Soldiers made a summer trip - not to a beautiful beach for R&R - but to see something the military has that they - the Soldiers - had never laid eyes on before.
Traveling from Fort Campbell, Ky., the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Soldiers visited here to see chemical agent-filled munitions. The weapons they saw were 4.2-inch mortars filled with mustard, a blistering agent.
The mission of safely storing chemical munitions here is the responsibility of the Anniston Chemical Activity (ANCA). The munitions are being safely demilitarized at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (ANCDF) by employees of the site systems contractor, Westinghouse Anniston, a division of URS Corporation.
The Dragon Soldiers, a term given those who have graduated from the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., have trained with small amounts of chemical agents in very controlled scenarios. In contrast, hundreds of thousands of chemical munitions are stored here containing approximately 980 tons of mustard agent.
1stLt. Matthew S. Hacker is the battalion chemical officer of the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. He led the Dragon Soldiers on their mission to Anniston.
"We heard about these facilities in (training) at Fort Leonard Wood. We didn't know much, just there was a stockpile and they were being destroyed," he said.
Anniston is one of six sites around the country that currently stores the stockpile of chemical munitions for the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency (CMA) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. Like Anniston, facilities are operating in Arkansas, Oregon and, Utah to safely eliminate stockpiles located in those states. Facilities are currently being constructed to demilitarize stockpiles in Colorado and Kentucky.
Originally, the U.S. owned more than 31,500 tons of nerve agent and mustard agent in nine locations. Since 1990, more than 20,425 tons (almost 65 percent) of agent in more than 2,198,500 munitions and containers have been safely demilitarized. Two storage and disposal facilities have closed, one on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific and the other at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. A third facility, at Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana, is currently being closed. The last two disposal facilities are being constructed at Blue Grass Army Depot, Richmond, Ky., and at Pueblo Chemical Depot, Colo., to process the munitions located there.
Hacker said, "I have only seen pictures of chemical weapons in training slides. It was especially interesting to see live chemical rounds with the green bands identifying them as chemical rounds.
"It was great to see all this in a safe environment."
Storing chemical munitions presents a certain level of risk to the Army's civilian work force and to the surrounding communities. Legislation, as well as an international treaty, mandate all of the munitions be safely demilitarized. Provisions of the treaty, known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, are managed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The OPCW headquarters is located at The Hague, Kingdom of the Netherlands. Internationally, 188 countries have ratified the treaty.
Chemical munitions have been stored at the northeast Alabama Depot since 1963. Anniston disposal operations began in August 2003. Since then, more than 56 percent of the local stockpile (more than 372,400 munitions) has been safely processed.
Hacker, a prior service Soldier, explained, "All except two of the 11 Soldiers that visited Anniston entered the Army after the Chemical Weapons Conventions came into effect, so most of us never considered how different our jobs might be with the addition of CBRN offensive operations."
The visit and tours impressed Hacker. He said, "Seeing live chemical munitions is a chance that most Chemical Corps Soldiers will never have the opportunity to witness, especially in that amount. I also understand that the munitions we saw represented only a small amount of the munitions at Anniston."
Referring to the Anniston chemical munitions stockpile after the storage igloo door was opened, one of the visiting Soldiers was heard to exclaim, "Stock and Awe!"
Spec. Daniel J. Stewart previously served as a Marine. He trained as a chemical specialist when the Army Chemical Corps was located at nearby Fort McClellan. He said, "My fellow Soldiers and I really enjoyed our tour of the facilities. It gave us a chance to see our (job) training being used in an industrial setting while also supporting a military mission. It was a rare opportunity and we really appreciate everyone's efforts in putting together our tour."
Lt.Col. Andrew M. Herbst, ANCA commander, said, "Hosting fellow Dragon Soldiers was a unique and rewarding opportunity to showcase a dedicated work force expertly executing a critical mission. They gained a great appreciation for the missions and contributions Team Anniston makes each day. This made the Soldiers' professional development an invaluable experience."
When asked about Chemical Corps training, Hacker said, "In general, Army Chemical Corps Soldiers are trained to protect the force and allow the Army to continue to fight in an environment in which the threat of weapons of mass destruction is ever-increasing. I think the job of the Chemical Corps Soldiers is unique in that we all are trained to protect the force.
"But we all hope that we never have to do 'our job.'"
Hacker went on to explain that while Dragon Soldiers are trained and prepared for the worst, they do hope and pray the force is never attacked with weapons of mass destruction.
The Soldiers' trip to Anniston was short. But was it worthwhile' To that question, Hacker replied, "The Anniston trip was a great addition to our training. At the battalion level, we train on protecting the troops against the CBRN threat as well as operations in a CBRN environment. We were able to take away information that will help us in our operations. For example, at the protective equipment facility, we were able to take away information on how to better maintain our individual protective equipment."
Hacker was referring to ANCA's Toxic Test Equipment Branch in Building 87. ANCA's assigned personnel there are responsible for the maintenance, cleaning, and issuing of M40 protective masks, suits, and other equipment used when employees train or are required to enter storage igloos that may contain leaking mustard munitions. Leaking munitions are not a common occurrence. However, ANCA employees and other Anniston Army Depot employees with first responder responsibilities have to have expertly maintained equipment to use in case of an emergency.
The Dragon Soldiers also toured the chemical munitions disposal facility. Hacker was equally impressed with that tour.
"I knew that several of these chemical munitions disposal facilities existed around the country. We knew little about the operations other than that they existed. Only after the visit did we begin to understand the full extent of the ongoing operations to (demilitarize) our nation's stockpile," Hacker said.
"There are so many factors that go into these operations, from storage to disposal. I was impressed with the disposal facility in particular. There are so many safeguards and precautions to ensure the workers and surrounding area's safety. The Control Room in the disposal facility left no stone unturned when it comes to worker and community safety."
During the visit, Anniston officials suggested to Hacker that similar visits could be arranged for other Dragon Soldiers as well.
Hacker said, "While all Chemical Corps Soldiers may not have the opportunity to make a similar trip, it is something that all should consider. I am glad that we created this relationship for future Chemical Corps Soldiers at Fort Campbell.
"As the world changes, so does our mission. Some of the Chemical Corps Soldiers may even one day find themselves stationed at one these facilities. We were surprised to learn that few Soldiers were stationed at the facility, so we were honored to have been allowed this experience."
Following the tour, Hacker said, "At facilities like Anniston, Chemical Soldiers have the opportunity to witness CBRN demilitarization operations. At Anniston, we learned there is still a long way to go before we demilitarize all of the nation's stockpile. Even though it may not affect most Chemical Soldier's daily operations, it is certainly something that we all should understand."
Depot Chief of Staff Phillip M. Trued, Jr., talked to the Soldiers about the other activities that take place here. Hacker said, "We were privileged to witness ongoing operations at the Anniston Army Depot. This is also something most Soldiers unfortunately will not have the opportunity to witness.
Trued, a retired Army Chemical Corps Officer, described for the Soldiers the various missions that are undertaken on the Depot. It is the designated Center of Industrial and Technical Excellence (CITE) for combat vehicles (tracked and wheeled), artillery (self propelled and towed), bridging systems, and small caliber weapons (individual and crew served).
He pointed out that Anniston employees perform depot level maintenance on vehicles ranging in size from the Stryker to the 70-ton M1 Abrams tank and a variety of other types in between, like the M113 family of vehicles, the M88 recovery vehicle, and the M9 armored combat engineering vehicle. Major components of each vehicle are also overhauled and returned to stock.
"Most of us take for granted that we have the vehicles to do our jobs. I think most Soldiers do not realize the effort that goes into refurbishing these vehicles."
Summing up the visit on behalf of all of the Soldiers, Hacker said, "We certainly appreciate all of the work that the workers at the Anniston Army Depot are doing."
(Michael. B. Abrams is an Army civilian public affairs officer at Anniston Army Depot assigned to the Anniston Chemical Activity and the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility.)
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Anniston Army Depot: www.anad.army.mil
U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency: www.cma.army.mil
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: http://www.opcw.org