Afghanistan — Explosive Ordnance Disposal Exercise Displays Transition Progress

CAMP MIKE SPANN, Balkh Province, Afghanistan – Afghan cul­ture is based pri­mar­i­ly on trust. To build an effec­tive part­ner­ship with the peo­ple in Afghanistan is to earn their trust. The same can be said about work­ing with explo­sives, as the team relies on an enor­mous amount of trust.

Afghan Nation­al Army Sol­diers work togeth­er to cre­ate a ring-main­line charge for ord­nance dis­pos­al under the super­vi­sion of the U.S. Navy Explo­sive Ord­nance Dis­pos­al Mobile Unit Three at a safe blast site near Camp Mike Spann. (U.S. Navy pho­to by Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Spe­cial­ist 1st Class Christophe Lau­rent)
Source: NATO
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That trust was present on many lev­els on March 15 dur­ing the safe dis­pos­al of unex­plod­ed ord­nance (UXO) in Balkh Province. The suc­cess­ful oper­a­tion was con­duct­ed by mem­bers of the Afghan Nation­al Army (ANA) and mem­bers of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force (ISAF).

The 18 mor­tar shells were locat­ed by the ANA Route Clear­ance Com­pa­ny, in an undis­closed area. While they were able to be moved from the loca­tion, the UXOs still posed a pos­si­ble haz­ard. The ANA Explo­sive Ord­nance Dis­pos­al Unit was called to make cer­tain the threat would be eliminated. 

As part of an ongo­ing rela­tion­ship between the ANA 209th Corps and ISAF, train­ing is pro­vid­ed on many lev­els to pre­pare ANA sol­diers in the prop­er iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, dif­fu­sion and dis­pos­al of the dan­ger­ous muni­tions which are found in Afghanistan. 

A UXO can be han­dled in a num­ber of ways, depend­ing on many fac­tors. Some are extreme­ly volatile and mov­ing them would cause seri­ous safe­ty issues, so they are gen­er­al­ly blown in place. Oth­ers can be safe­ly han­dled and removed, but still require dis­pos­al, which need a con­trolled detonation. 

Through the coop­er­a­tion between the ANA’s 209th Corps and the U.S. Navy EOD Mobile Unit Three, a con­trolled det­o­na­tion was set up to safe­ly dis­pose of the mor­tar shells, while per­form­ing a check on training. 

“The ben­e­fit to this event is that the ANA guys have dif­fer­ent lev­els of knowl­edge of EOD,” said Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class Aaron Helmer of the Mobile Unit Three. “This is a per­fect oppor­tu­ni­ty to see the skill lev­el of all of them and to see how well they are retain­ing what they have been taught.” 

Both teams con­voyed to the safe remote area used for con­trolled det­o­na­tion and worked togeth­er to prop­er­ly han­dle and set the demo­li­tions. At the site, the mixed groups sep­a­rat­ed into three dif­fer­ent teams to demon­strate the dif­fer­ent basic tech­niques to safe­ly dis­pose of ordnance. 

Helmer’s team uti­lized a main­line – branch line, a way to clear explo­sives from a nar­row path­way. Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class Jonathan Tsui orga­nized what is called a ring – main­line, which is used to clear large areas and Lt. Romesh Hay­tas­ingh, the EOD Mobile Unit Three com­man­der, con­duct­ed the orga­nized demo­li­tion, used to con­trol the blast to inhib­it unnec­es­sary dam­age to the imme­di­ate area. 

While giv­ing the hands-on edu­ca­tion to the ANA through the use of trans­la­tors, they real­ized the essen­tial knowl­edge was present in each of the groups, as the ANA coun­ter­parts took charge in the instruction. 

“We got to a point, where we could stop talk­ing and just act as observers,” said Tsui. “They knew the basics and we had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to blend in and per­form the safe­ty checks for the work they were doing.” 

After the teams com­plet­ed the set up of the det­o­na­tions, the demo­li­tion leader, Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class Ben John­son care­ful­ly inspect­ed the blast area for any safe­ty haz­ards and to make cer­tain the group’s efforts had been prop­er­ly per­formed. Upon his approval, he ordered the blast lines to be con­nect­ed and to be extend­ed to the des­ig­nat­ed safe area. The safe area pro­tects the team from pos­si­ble stray blast frag­ments and allows a dis­tant inspec­tion of the detonations. 

John­son per­formed a final check and pre­pared the team for det­o­na­tions by mak­ing cer­tain all present are wear­ing the prop­er pro­tec­tion. Then he ordered the select­ed mem­bers to ignite the blast. 

“Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole,” was announced loud­ly to pre­pare every­one for the blasts by the indi­vid­ual send­ing the charge to the explo­sives. Each blast was an audi­ble and visu­al acknowl­edg­ment of a suc­cess­ful det­o­na­tion. After all of the blasts, John­son walked to each loca­tion to ver­i­fy the com­ple­tion of the event. When he returned, every­one gath­ered a fol­low up assess­ment of the activity. 

Upon com­ple­tion, the teams con­voyed back to their respec­tive bases and per­formed the fol­low-on brief­in­gs for assess­ment from all par­tic­i­pants. Dur­ing the post blast brief, Lt. Hay­tas­ingh shared his eval­u­a­tion of the event. 

“The most suc­cess­ful part of the day was hav­ing one of the ANA guys step up and take over the train­ing,” Hay­tas­ingh said. “It shows these guys are tak­ing the train­ing and apply­ing it. They are also teach­ing it to their counterparts.” 

In a coun­try which has seen con­flict for near­ly 30 years, the land­scape is lit­tered with rem­nants of plant­ed explo­sive devices and UXOs. The tasks of han­dling these explo­sives are usu­al­ly the respon­si­bil­i­ty of high­ly-trained EOD tech­ni­cians. At the remote loca­tion of Camp Sha­heen, adja­cent to Camp Mike Spann, the mem­bers of the ANA are trained in EOD fun­da­men­tals, and are tak­ing the lead in the safe dis­pos­al of ordnance. 

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