US Airmen Respond to Buried Threat in Afghanistan
Dispatches from the Front:
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, 2008 -- When the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan, they left thousands of mines and other explosive remnants of the war behind. At Bagram Airfield, with constant civil engineering projects to expand the flightline and other facilities, it's a daily occurrence to find small explosives in the soft sand.
During a normal mine clearing mission recently, Airmen discovered an OFAB 100 Soviet bomb containing 92.5 pounds of high explosives.
"It was kind of surprising there was that large of a bomb where it was located," said Master Sgt. Cayle Harris, the 755th Air Expeditionary Group Explosive Ordnance Disposal team leader.
"(The bomb) had probably been there 25 to 30 years doing just fine and there was a pretty good chance that it wasn't going to explode just because we found it," said Capt. Michael Mayo, a 455th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron current operations officer.
Located next to the main taxiway for passenger and cargo aircraft, the bomb posed a risk if left unchecked. Lt. Col. Kevin Virts and Captain Mayo were brought in from the 455th EOSS to come up with a plan to either remove the bomb, or render it safe.
"This is Afghanistan's hub. Bagram is a very, very busy airfield. Any time you shut down operations here, there's a ripple effect all around the country. You want to minimize the time we have to shut down the airfield," said Captain Mayo, a native of Tallahassee, Fla.
Fortunately for Colonel Virts and Captain Mayo, there was a scheduled runway closure.
"We had about five days to think about it before that opportunity presented itself," Captain Mayo said. "If we knew the airfield was going to be down anyway, you'd get this done, and there would be minimal effects to actual flying."
Next, logistics had to be sorted out. The area at risk of significant overpressure -- blast force strong enough to break glass -- included not just parts of the flightline and runway, but several camps and workplaces as well. Delicate weather sensors and radar systems had to be taken under consideration as well.
"They actually had to move the (tactical air navigation), which is something you don't do," Captain Mayo said.
The tactical air navigation is a system that tells a plane where it is in relation to the runway, assisting aircraft to fly, land and takeoff, even under poor visibility.
"A (tactical air navigation) gets (aircraft) close enough to begin their final approach to an airfield," said Matthew Axberg, a civilian MetNav technician from Klamath Falls, Ore. "They are normally not moved due to the fact that a small shift of the antenna on the ground will create a much larger change the further you get from the beacon. One degree doesn't sound like much but 40 miles out it's a large enough distance to potentially cause problems."
Once moved, the tactical air navigation would have to be flight-checked by a specialized aircraft to ensure proper placement.
"It just so happens that the plane that does that came back (the day after), so they moved (the tactical air navigation) and brought it right back," Captain Mayo said.
After nearly a week of planning, the big day came. The camps were evacuated and the flightline was closed down. The EOD team used a thermite grenade to destroy the bomb in place. In theory, the super-hot thermite would burn the bomb gradually, allowing the gases to dissipate in a controlled manner rather than exploding, but with a bomb that old, anything could have happened.
In the end, everything went exactly as planned.
"In our line of business, it seems like something always goes wrong," Sergeant Harris said. "This is about as perfect as an operation can possibly go."
(Report by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)
Tags: DOD, Military, War, United States, U.S., al Qaeda, al Qaida, GWOT, terrorism, Taliban, Open Thread, Wire, Headlines, Dispatches from the Front
Global Tags: Washington DC, News and Politics, News, Politics, Current Events, Current Affairs, Life, Culture, Buzz, Tension