BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — For the past 13 years, U.S. and coalition forces have moved military equipment and supplies in and out of Afghanistan to sustain combat operations across the country.
As the drawdown continues in Afghanistan, the 4th Sustainment Brigade finds itself as the only sustainment brigade left in country and has been tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that all equipment, ranging from vehicles to food and water to ammunition, finds its way safely out of Afghanistan.
Recently at Bagram Airfield, soldiers from the “Wrangler” Brigade joined forces with a convoy escort team from the 950th Engineer Clearance Company, Wisconsin National Guard and civilian explosive ordnance disposal and ammunition technicians from the Joint Munitions Destruct-Afghanistan Team to safely disburse of about 6,000 pounds of out-of-date explosives, said Staff Sgt. Richard Perec, from the New York National Guard.
“It’s safer to blow the ammunition up, than to let it fall into the hands of the enemy or try to ship it home and risk it detonating in transit,” he said.
In order to carry out the mission, Perec who is attached to the Wrangler Brigade had to train soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Special Troops Battalion on how to drive and operate the various military vehicles in order to safely transport explosive ordnance from the ammunition supply point at the airfield to the detonation site located outside of the bases perimeter.
“They have me training the guys on the various vehicles because I’m an 88M (motor transport operator) and I’m probably the most qualified person for the job,” Perec said. He’s trained about a dozen soldiers on various systems to transport the munitions safely.
Ken Barnett, a disposal safety specialist with destruction team, was responsible for overseeing the demolishing operations to ensure everything went smoothly, all safety guidelines were followed, and that nobody U.S. military, civilian contractor, or local national were injured in the process.
“In order to destroy these excess or unsafe munitions, our guys spend about eight to 10 days to build these boxes and then schedule with the security teams to come out here and safely destruct them,” Barnett said. “We have everything here from .50-caliber small arms that can’t be burned in an incinerator, artillery rounds, mortars, and even rockets.”
Barnett said one of the main reasons his team conducts the operations is to ensure munitions like these don’t fall into enemy hands, which stops them from potentially being used against coalition forces.
“We usually come out about every two weeks to blow munitions like these,” he said. “That gives us enough time to build these boxes and then arrange for the security teams and transportation.”
As the ordnance was set in place and prepared for demolition, the 950th Company continued to provide perimeter security to not only keep the soldiers and EOD techs safe, but to also ensure the safety of the ever growing group of spectators that had gathered from the local village, ready to come in and police up all the scrap metal.
“The villagers here come out and collect the scrap metal of the shots which in turn is their income,” Barnett said. “They collect the scrap and use it for things like engine parts because it is still good quality metal and can be melted down.”
As the U.S. footprint in Afghanistan continues to shrink and the current bases are prepared to potentially be handed over to the Afghan Army, safely downsizing and retrograding equipment, soldiers, and munitions out of the country will continue to be a key element of Operation Resolute Support.