Ordnance Specialists Clear Land Mines In Afghanistan
(Source : US Department of Defesne ; issued Mar. 19, 2002)

KANDAHAR AIR BASE, Afghanistan --- Soldiers out of San Diego, Calif., are working with coalition forces to clear Afghan's countryside of land mines.

After more than 20 years of war, the Afghan countryside is littered with unexploded mortar rounds, bombs, rockets, land mines and thousands of rounds of ammunition -- some never fired, some duds.

The 710th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), out of Port Loma, San Diego, Calif., is tasked with the huge job of clearing the sites. Canadian army EOD specialists are also working with the 710th Ordnance to clear the fields.

The locations of munitions caches, unexploded ordnance and land mines are reported to the 710th daily by roving patrols and Afghan nationals, EOD specialists said.

"We start with a list of locations where somebody reported seeing something," said Sgt. 1st Class Tony Hammerquist, 710th operations noncommissioned officer. "It could be one land mine or a cache of howitzer shells. What we have to do is check all of the sightings, determine what's there, and then decide on the best way to take care of it."

The priority of caches to clear, according to Hammerquist, is any kind of shoulder-fired missile, grenades and mines -- anything that can be easily redeployed against the troops. Oftentimes, the EOD teams don't find anything at the sites.

"A lot of the time, we just find large dirt mounds," said Staff Sgt. Grant Adkins, an explosive ordnance disposal team leader. "We usually find the caches buried under the mounds, but we often don't know what we're going to find, and that's the scary part."

Once it is decided the cache is a threat and needs to be destroyed, the next step is deciding how to go about it, Hammerquist said.

"If it's safe to move, we'll just pick it up and carry it to the location of a larger cache, so we can blow it up all together," Hammerquist said. "If it's to dangerous, we'll just blow it up in place."

EOD detonations are a common sound around the airfield, officials said. Some explosions are so strong that they rattle the windows in the airport terminal, despite the explosions being placed several miles outside of the perimeter.

"We've been here since January 23," said 1st Lt. Kevin Wynes, 710th commander. "We've done detonations almost every day we've been here. We can't get rid of all the stuff that's out here. That's why we have to prioritize."

Despite the standard weapons and munitions caches, the EOD teams also find other varieties of unexploded ordnance.

"Occasionally we'll run across a minefield," said Adkins. "We mark our tracks so that, hopefully, nobody else will go in there. We also mark the location on the map and send the information up the chain."

The rest, he said, is the job of the combat engineers. While EOD has the resources and expertise to take care of the caches and single explosives, they don't have the manpower to handle an entire minefield, EOD officials said.
EOD also takes care of any ordnance that the United States may have placed in the area that hasn't been destroyed.

In the early stages of the war in Afghanistan, the Air Force released over 200 soft-drink size canister explosives. They drifted to the ground on parachutes, detonating on impact. Unfortunately, a small percentage did not explode and the duds have to be cleaned up, officials said.

"They are too sensitive to move," Hammerquist said. "Just settling in the sand or a strong gust of wind can set them off."

In order to destroy them, an EOD team builds a fighting position on top of a vehicle, and a sharpshooter wearing body armor uses a .50-caliber sniper rifle to detonate the canisters, officials said.

"Our job is dangerous," Hammerquist said, "but it's what we do. It's a lot like an airborne operation. It's risky, but if everyone does what they're trained to do, everyone."


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