Last year a Soldier lost his arm, and two other Soldiers in his squad suffered serious injuries, when he attempted to un-tape a grenade for turn-in. Every day a Soldier somewhere will tape the safety pin and lever of a freshly issued hand grenade. Sometimes he will tape the safety pin to keep it from clanging, or he will tape a grenade to his combat vest or he will tape it for no other reason than he was told to.
Larry Baker, a Forces Command explosives safety and range manager, says taping is not necessary.
"To the best of my knowledge there is no evidence in the history of the M67 hand grenade to suggest that it requires taping and there is no evidence that a Soldier needs to tape it because of inherent safety issues," he said.
Baker should know, he has nearly thirty years of experience in the ammunition business which started when he was drafted during Vietnam.
"In Vietnam we could not tape a grenade because tape just won't stick in the jungle. There is a perception which exists in the Army today that Soldiers need
to put tape on a hand grenade and that perception has become a reality. It is common place."
Baker says there is no real reason to tape a grenade. "We have grenade pouches for Soldiers now (for transporting them), so if the danger was the possibility of
getting snagged on something, or becoming entangled there is a solution."
Baker says there were problems in the past with one specific explosive, the MK141, a diversionary, non-fragmenting hand grenade. It was a Navy-Marine Corps unique item used mostly by special forces in Afghanistan. Even though the Army no longer issues it, that item was the catalyst for the practice of taping grenades. Now, he says, "They tape everything."
The real problem is with turn-ins. Every unit that completes a rotation in Afghanistan or Iraq is required to turn-in unused ammunition. That ammunition has to be
inspected and that's when the situation gets dicey.
"Some of these grenades are turned in and all that ammo handler can see is a ball of tape. He doesn't have X-ray vision. He can't see if the pin is secure. There is no way
of knowing what is under all that tape." It creates a huge risk for the Soldier or civilian at the end of that process. Says Baker, "It's like reaching into a snake pit. You don't know which one is going to bite you."
From a supply standpoint there is also a chance that lot numbers are pulled off
with the removal of tape and once those numbers are gone the ammunition becomes unserviceable. Ammunition experts say tape also leaves a sticky residue on grenades and it takes a lot of time to remove tape which makes the inspection process more lengthy than it has to be. With some 900,000 grenades currently in service, "It's a risk we don't need to expose ammo handlers to," said Baker.
The Army issued two safety alerts last year. Then after the incident this past September in Al Asad, Iraq, the Joint Munitions Command issued an Ammunition Information Notice on the safety risk of taping grenades. By the way, the Soldier who was permanently injured in that incident was removing tape from an M3A2. Had it been an M67, according to Baker, "he would have been dead."
In an effort to address the perception in the field that current safety mechanisms are inadequate the Army will soon introduce a confidence clip. The clip goes between the
M213 fuze and the M67 grenade body.
Army ammunition experts hope this new feature will increase Soldier confidence in their armament and equipment and, "negate the perceived need to tape grenades."