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.
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.
Allied Command Operations