By SOF Editor on Tue, 12/01/2009 - 11:26am
Airmen and Iraqi army technicians destroyed a stockpile of captured munitions and improvised explosive device components weighing close to 1,200 pounds Nov. 24, at a range outside of Baghdad, Iraq.
The event was a combined effort between the explosive ordnance disposal technicians assigned to the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron and the Iraqi army 17th Bomb Disposal Company technicians and is part of an on going mentoring and training program by the Air Force to build up the Iraqi army's EOD capability.
"We have been integrated with this company for the last 2.5 months," said Tech. Sgt. David Fields, a 447th ECES EOD technician. "Our goal is to help them build up their own EOD company so they can be self sufficient and self sustaining in the future."
The munitions were brought to the range from multiple patrol bases throughout the region, Sergeant Fields said. They had been found at improvised explosive device locations and in weapons caches discovered by coalition forces. These explosive devices were then gathered and kept until they could be destroyed under controlled conditions.
"Today we are teaching (Iraqi soldiers) basic demolition procedures,"Sergeant Fields said. "This is the foundation of our career field in general. By teaching them these basic principles, we are hoping it will instill in them the information and tools they will need once this mission fully transitions to their unit."
The six-man team works closely with their Iraqi counterparts and is assigned to an Army brigade, Sergeant Fields said. They are the only Air Force technicians assigned to the group and respond regularly to IED calls along with training the Iraqi army forces.
Detonation exercises such as this one take place at least once a month, giving the technicians opportunities to hone not only their skills, but also the skills of the Iraqi army EOD team.
"We try to do these often for two reasons," Sergeant Fields said. "First, we want to mitigate the hazards of having stockpiles of collected munitions at bases and secondly, we want to give the Iraqis as much experience at basic demolition as we can."
All of the munitions were gathered at a central collection point where they were sorted into specific groups such as hand grenades and mines. The team then used manuals to identify each unexploded ordinance and then wrote down the numbers and types into their records.
"Today we have everything from home made explosives to artillery shells to mortars," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Petrulis, a 447th ECES EOD technician. "There really is a little bit of everything here, so it gives everyone good training at identifying what everything is and how to properly dispose of it."
And dispose of it they did.
The pile of munitions, carefully and delicately laid out in a pile far into the desert, was surrounded by demolition charges designed to explode precisely as intended. At the right moment, the munitions were detonated and erupted with a massive fireball and explosion. Sand, rock and debris were thrown hundreds of feet into the sky, followed by a large mushroom-shaped cloud.
"This was a good mission for us," Sergeant Fields said. "It is good knowing you are part of something that is bigger than just yourself. These (Iraqis) are going to be around taking care of these weapons long after we are gone, so we feel proud we have done our part to help them be able to take care of their country.
"This gives the Iraqi soldiers a real sense of pride. And that's very important," he added.