News: Safety is priority for ammunition handlers in Kandahar, Afghanistan
Story by Spc. Rochelle Krueger
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan—U.S. Army ammunition supply specialists are tasked with receiving, storing and issuing all types of munitions and explosives. According to deployed soldiers with the 63rd Ordnance Company-Task Force Provider, sorting ammunition is a job that can be just as dangerous as the war-fighters who fire it.
“This job keeps you on your toes; you have to be careful,” says Spc. Jessica Castellese, assigned to the 63rd Ordnance Co. “We are around all kinds of ammunition—even the small arms can be dangerous.”
Castellese and her platoon work at the ammunition supply point on Kandahar Airfield. Amidst scorching temperatures in Southern Afghanistan, these Troops withstand the heat and the dangers associated with sorting through thousands of hot rounds.
“You can never be too careful when handling the ammunition,” said Castellese, a native of Arlington, Texas. “We’ve seen all kinds of things, like taped grenades or blasting caps just thrown into a can. Sometimes you can’t identify (the ammunition) because the label is gone or it’s foreign.”
At the ASP, the 63rd Ordnance Company handles everything from 9-mm rounds to Army Tactical Missile Systems (rockets). The soldiers assist redeploying units by inventorying and separating the used, unused and damaged munitions.
“(Additionally), my team has to go through all of the ammunition from ranges or discovered on installations to sort out and determine where it needs to go,” said 63rd Detachment Commander, 1st Lt. Becky Deal.
If the ammunition is still serviceable, it is often reissued to units who need it, said Deal, or retrograded back to the United States. If not, the 63rd Ordnance Company either packages the defected material so it can be demolished or sends the damaged munitions to the incinerator.
“We also have to sort through the brass to make sure there are no live rounds in the turn-in,” explains Deal.
All of the brass, or shells from used ammunition rounds, are also sorted by size.
“This is part of the job that many soldiers do not see,” said Spc. Kalian Gayadat. “We sort through the brass so it can be destroyed and processed into new rounds for the Soldiers on the front lines.
“Attention to detail is vital in this part of sorting because if a live round gets mixed in with the brass shells while it is being melted, the round could go off and injure someone,” added Gayadat, a native of Boynton Beach, Fla.
Deal said safety is her team’s No. 1 priority.
“My soldiers understand the depth of the fire power we work with,” she said, comparing the ammunition to an improvised explosive device. “We conduct daily safety briefs. The knowledge of the effects of setting off just one flare helps my soldiers maintain safety first.”
Helping to ensure safety at the KAF ASP is Donald Turkovich, the quality assurance specialist (ammunition surveillance).
“The most dangerous thing out here is finding unknowns in the cans,” he said.
Turkovich assists the ordnance company by further inspecting retrograded rounds and determines if the ammunition is still serviceable.
“I have to examine every piece turned in to determine if it is safe and set it aside,” he said. “Sometimes the soldiers just don’t know what it is.”
Furthermore, the 63rd Ordnance element at Kandahar Airfield is not entirely comprised of “89Bs.” Several soldiers—like Gayadat, a wheeled-vehicle mechanic—have cross-trained to support the unit’s mission.
“When I first started learning about ammunition here I was skeptical of touching it, (considering) the dangers associated with it,” said Spc. Jeramie Thibodeaux, a petroleum supply specialist who helps sort through ammunition at the ASP. “But now, I handle everything with confidence.”
Spc. Brandy Wilkinson, who has experience with handling ammunition, said the most important part of her job is the knowledge of the munitions’ power.
“You have different classes of munitions,” said Wilkinson, a Santa Barbara, Calif., native with the 63rd. “Every day you really have to have a respect for the munitions and know what it is capable of doing to ensure the safety of everyone.”
Date Posted:07.06.2013 09:18
Location:KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, AF
Hometown:ARLINGTON, TX, US
Hometown:BOYNTON BEACH, FL, US
Hometown:DALLAS, TX, US
Hometown:FORT LEWIS, WA, US
Hometown:SANTA BARBARA, CA, US
Hometown:TACOMA, WA, US