By James Brabenec, Fort SillMay 17, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Late winter and spring rains have returned a healthy green to parts of Fort Sill that were charred by last year's wildfires. This new growth, knee high in spots up, can obscure unexploded ordnance on the ground or partially buried on Fort Sill range lands. This makes it all the more imperative to steer clear of this potential hazard.
Fort Sill Range Control officials want everyone to know about, and especially for parents to teach children about, the dangers of UXOs and about areas of post off-limits to everyone.
Unexploded ordnance includes munitions that have been fired but failed to function properly -- a "dud."
"When units fire artillery, each round has a fuze. When that fuze doesn't function, the round just goes into the ground and becomes unexploded ordnance," said Larry Aller, range division chief. "It doesn't happen often, but when it does, we have to treat the round as live ammunition."
Aller said UXOs are considered a safety hazard because "There is not a 100-percent guarantee the fuze won't go off, under the right circumstances."
He said a kick or jostle from a curious person could cause the round to blow. Other initiators of an explosion include vibrations and changes in temperature.
"What makes unexploded ordnance really dangerous is that children don't really understand it. What they need to be taught is that dangerous areas on post are marked off for a reason. Parents or guardians must tell them to never go into those areas," Aller said.
For some children, the lure of unexploded ordnance is difficult to resist.
"Lots of unexploded ordnance is interesting in color and may be tempting for children to pick up," Aller said. "Talk to your children. Explain to them that Soldiers train with live ammunition, but that it does not always function. Tell them not to go into the training areas to explore. And, tell them that if they see a sign that says 'DANGER,' do not go past that sign."
Fort Sill officials protect Soldiers, family members, retirees, Department of Defense civilians and others visiting the post by posting large signs that mark the dangerous areas on the installation.
All impact areas are marked on the Fort Sill map. In addition to that precaution, there are signs that mark all dangerous areas on post.
Buddy Leavell, range control operations officer, said range control personnel respond almost monthly to units that spot UXOs during their training. The good news is the majority of them are found in training areas or along margins of impact areas. He said range control seldom receives reports for UXOs in the main post or cantonment area. Still, he cautioned people if they see something unusual laying on the ground:
- don't touch it;
- mark the area; and
- call range control to have the item properly investigated.
"Parents need to tell children not to pick up anything at Fort Sill. Should a child bring home unexploded ordnance, don't mess with it. Leave it alone and call the Lawton Police Department, the military police or the 761st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company. Call someone. Always assume it is dangerous," Aller said. "Don't be inquisitive -- it might be unexploded ordnance just waiting to go off.
"When someone reports unexploded ordnance, EOD is called out to the area," Aller said.
First they evaluate the situation and often try to blow it up in place. If that isn't possible or safe, it is moved to a safe disposal area.
"No one is allowed into those areas without the authorization of range control. When authorized personnel must go into the areas to change out targets, it's a really big deal. They must be accompanied by EOD and a medic, and they must wear certain protective gear. Many of those areas are worse than mine fields," Aller said.
He added anyone who goes into the off-limit areas on Fort Sill is at risk. Similarly, "second-hand souvenirs" should never be purchased and transported by anyone who isn't completely familiar with munitions. Just because it may have sat on grandpa's desk doesn't mean it was made safe, said experts.
"When Fort Sill first began, the Old Post Quadrangle was the training area. Then Fort Sill grew, and so did the training. A lot of areas on post are areas where munitions were at one time expended.There are dangerous things lying around Fort Sill, and not just in impact areas. If you happen to find something, don't touch it," Aller said.
If you or someone you know finds unexploded ordnance, call range control 24 hours a day at 442-2994/2008, 761st EOD at 442-2313 or military police at 442-2101/2102.