BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- The Army Field Support Battalion-Afghanistan's ammo abatement team plays an essential role in the demilitarization and retrograde operations of military equipment in Afghanistan.
This small detachment of 10 ammunition specialists is responsible for clearing all ammunition items from vehicles leaving Afghanistan, either to be demilitarized and scrapped or go back to a depot in the United States for upgrades.
It's a tedious process that requires keen eyesight and repetition, but results in increased safety and decreased costs for the Army.
"Before it leaves theater, it should be completely free and clear of any ammunition pieces," said Sgt. Brian Schlader, ammo abatement noncommissioned officer in charge, AFSBn-AFG.
When a vehicle is demilitarized it gets cut into pieces, typically with a blow torch. Before the current ammo abatement process was established in 2012, leftover live rounds had been set off while technicians were cutting through metal, resulting in injuries.
"We keep people safe," Schlader said. "We haven't had any instances of someone getting injured by setting off a live round when they're cutting into a vehicle since this ammo abatement process was instituted."
When a vehicle is sent back to the United States through the retrograde process for upgrades, a single leftover ammunition item found in the vehicle when it arrives at a port can cause long delays and result in massive fines up $8,500 per item.
"Attention to detail is the biggest key," Schlader said. "It's time-consuming because you have to search every single crack, crease, hole, and fitting. That's why we have a process where each vehicle is seen by more than one pair of eyes, multiple times."
The AFSBn-AFG ammo abatement team uses a three-step process that is painfully tedious and redundant to ensure nothing gets past them.
"A first team looks through the vehicle, then a second team follows behind and does the exact same thing," Schlader said. "Then, if we have enough people, a third team will look everything over, but often times it's the first team that goes back in and takes another look."
The redundancy is necessary because the first look almost never catches everything. It's normal for the second team find additional items, said Schlader.
"Each team has to be focused and thorough," he said. "We respect the process, because the process works."
Whether the vehicles that are being inspected for stray ammo items are completely assembled or stripped down to only sheet metal, the team stays true to their process and they always find something.
"The trickiest part is just that rounds and brass casings and links -- they're small so they find their way into anything," Schlader said. "The vents, for example, are not somewhere you'd think ammunition would end up. But if you have a vehicle that's been out and about here for 15 years you have things that get dropped into every nook and cranny."
The vehicles are checked again with a similar process when they reach the United States.
Nearing the end of their nine-month deployment, Schlader's team hasn't allowed a single vehicle they inspected to reach an American port with ammo items inside.
"Nobody on this team has let me down," Schlader said. "I feel 100 percent confident in everyone's abilities, not just in the ammo abatement mission, but across the spectrum of support we've been able to provide the AFSBn-AFG."
In addition to the ammo abatement mission, AFSBn-AFG leadership relies on the small detachment of ammunition specialists fill in support when other staff positions run thin.
"We rely on them here as Soldiers," said Lt. Col. Brian Knieriem, commander, AFSBn-AFG. "We really lucked out having this team as part of our battalion. The new team that rotates in here to replace this current team has some big shoes to fill."
Schlader's team provides force protection for the battalion's footprint on Bagram Air Field. They help other staff sections when personnel is under strength, including assisting the S4 (logistics) section with quickly issuing equipment to gaining tactical units. They also help the battalion's Joint Munitions Command logistics assistance representatives with ammunition inspections.
The majority of AFSBn-AFG's workforce is comprised of Department of the Army civilians. The U.S. Air Force requires a uniformed military member to drive a vehicle on and off their aircraft.
You can often find Soldiers from the ammo abatement team on the flight line late at night driving trucks on and off airplanes -- helping the AFSBn-AFG deliver materiel readiness to the warfighter across Afghanistan.
"This group of Soldiers that we have out on this team are really top-notch," Knieriem said. "They take on every extra duty I've asked them to and they've never let it negatively impact their professionalism or effectiveness in their ammo abatement mission, and they do everything with a smile. I'm just very fortunate to have this group of Soldiers."
The ammo abatement team is scheduled to return home in April, 2018 where they serve with the 660th Ordnance Company in Idaho.