Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) marked a significant milestone this month with the end of the GB projectile delivery campaign.
Chemical crews removed the last of nearly 4,000 GB projectiles once stored in earth-covered magazines in the chemical weapons storage area at Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) in Kentucky. Over four months, crews moved these chemical weapons to the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) for demilitarization.
“I am proud of the workers we have,” said David Velazquez, director of chemical operations. “They stepped up to accomplish the mission during a global pandemic without complaint. It feels really good knowing that despite these coronavirus challenges, we made the mission happen without compromising our standards.”
BGCA toxic materials handlers have been moving munitions since the first load of mustard projectiles was transported to BGCAPP for destruction in June 2019.
“Over the past several months we have gotten better and better at this. We have cross trained the crew and have given more people the opportunity to support in lead roles,” Velazquez said. “Everyone has been willing to help each other and to do what it takes to safely accomplish the mission every single day.”
One key to the success of this campaign was each employee’s keen focus on their assigned duties. Before each movement, leaders discussed a detailed plan that outlined personnel, equipment, routes, expected weather and other support elements. They war-gamed potential challenge areas and ensured redundant systems were in place for equipment failures or personnel shortages.
One essential support area was the emergency operations center (EOC). The EOC set the conditions to start daily operations by synchronizing all movements in the chemical limited area. EOC personnel led coordination efforts between BGAD, BGCAPP and Madison County Emergency Management Agency to ensure all partners were prepared to execute the mission and respond in the unlikely event of an accident or incident in the chemical limited area.
“I was concerned about staffing the minimum CAIRA (chemical accident and/or incident response and assistance) teams because of school and child care closings pertaining to COVID-19,” said Mark C. Ernst, supervisory operations specialist. “Our workforce rose above the situation. Their selflessness and dedication overcame the challenges resulting from the impacts of the coronavirus as they continued to support multiple deliveries each week.”
The work of the chemical crews was supported not only by the EOC, but also by several other functions in the organization. Quality assurance specialists (ammunition surveillance) monitored safety and compliance during munition movement operations. Inventory personnel accounted for the GB projectiles being moved and ensured completion of paperwork to transfer custody to BGCAPP. The logistics team worked through procurement difficulties resulting from coronavirus impacts to provide items the crews needed to conduct operations.
“I am very proud of our team,” said Lt. Col. Rodney D. McCutcheon, BGCA commander. “They got the job done during a global pandemic, during a time of great uncertainty, while taking care of themselves and each other. That speaks volumes about the kind of people they are and the dedication they have to see these chemical weapons destroyed.”
BGCA will continue to support delivery of mustard projectiles until BGCAPP is ready to receive other munitions for the next demilitarization campaign. Once all weapons have been delivered, the organization will move forward with closure activities.
“My congratulations go out to the BGCA workforce for this milestone achievement,” said Col. Kelso C. Horne III, director, U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity. “The last time GB in the national chemical stockpile was destroyed was more than 10 years ago. Seeing that empty igloo, and knowing that the last of the GB projectiles are on their way to destruction, is a testament to the dedication of the BGCA workforce and their partners. This is Army teamwork at its best.”
Chemical weapons destruction at BGAD is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2023.