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Mine All Mine

Mine All Mine

Editor’s note: Maj. Halebic has served in the Bosnian Army since 1993. He wrote the following article last year while attending the Aviation Safety Officer Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

It was mid-October 1993, the second year of our war. I was 17 and had already been wounded in the right shoulder. I could barely move my arm and was recuperating at my parents’ house because the hospital was overloaded with seriously wounded soldiers. I was laying in my room when my uncle arrived and asked my mother for a key to the basement so he could leave a box of papers down there. I heard my uncle tell her to tell me that I couldn’t touch the box of papers. When my mother opened my bedroom door to check on me, I pretended to be sleeping. I was excited and couldn’t wait for the opportunity to go to the basement and see what was in that box.

Sometime that evening I was at home alone, so I went to the basement to check out that box of papers. I found the box on an upper shelf. It was difficult to get down due to my injuries and its heavy weight. When I opened it, I was amazed by what was inside — about 10 PMA-3 anti-personnel mines and five PROM-1 bounding-type APMs. I noticed the PROM-1 APMs were disarmed, and I didn’t see safety collars around PMA-3s, so I assumed the explosive charges must have been removed.

The PMA-3 is a former-Yugoslavian minimum metal APM. It is circular and consists of a plastic upper and lower half joined together by a rubber cover. A safety collar is normally wrapped around the outside, preventing the upper half of the mine from tilting when in transit. Once deployed, the safety collar is removed.

Sufficient pressure on the top surface of the mine causes it to tilt. The tilting drives a pin through a friction-sensitive pyrotechnic compound, which fires the detonator and then the main explosive charge. Straight downward pressure does not have the shearing component needed to trigger the mine. This gives the mine blast resistance since blast overpressure bears down evenly on the top surface of the mine. The mine has a relatively low explosive content, so it will maim rather than kill. Its blast resistance, combined with the lack of metal in the mine, make it extremely difficult to clear.

Without checking the detonator charge, I took off the rubber cover from one of the mines and then tried to put it back on. Because of my injured right arm, however, I couldn’t get the cover back on properly. As I continued to struggle with the cover, I heard a squealing noise. I immediately stopped and decided I better check for the detonator charge.

I flipped over the mine and opened the detonator charge housing cap. Inside, I saw the detonator charge and started to shake. I couldn’t believe what I’d done. I left the mine on the table and ran to my friend’s house. He was on an explosive ordnance disposal team. On our way back to my house, I told him what I had done. He knew how sensitive those mines were and couldn’t believe I’d been so stupid.

Once back in the basement, my friend was able to disarm all of the mines and separated the detonator charges from the metal bodies. He told me I was lucky and from now on I should celebrate that day as my birthday. I didn’t tell anyone about this incident for a long time except my uncle, with whom I had a heated “discussion” about leaving live mines in our basement.

Even though the war ended more than 20 years ago, mines and other explosives remain a huge threat in Bosnia and Herzegovina — not just to the civilian population, but to those working on demining and destroying explosives. According to Bosnia's Mine Action Center, since 1995, more than 1,700 people have fallen victim to mines and unexploded bombs. Of those, about 600 were killed. The Bosnian government’s Mine Action Strategy for 2009-19 promises to clear all unexploded devices by 2019.

After the war, I decided to stay in the Army. Inspired on my close call, I suggested to my commander we coordinate with all of the schools in our AOR and organize education programs about mines. Until these devices are no longer a threat, we must remember to leave all unexploded ordnance alone.

If You Didn’t Drop It …

McAlester, Oklahoma

When munitions fail to function as intended, they become unexploded ordnance. You might expect to find UXO only on impact ranges and in combat areas, but that’s not always the case.

Military and foreign munitions come in a variety of types, sizes and shapes and may not be easy to recognize. However, items that are easily identified as military ordnance have found their way into the homes as souvenirs or war trophies. Some unsuspecting collectors have even discovered that the “inert” grenade they’ve been using for years as a paperweight was actually live.

Military explosives ordnance disposal personnel routinely get calls to take care of UXO. Sometimes, these items are found in unlikely locations, including:

• Three 155 mm rounds (one live, two inert) and a 16-inch naval gun round were discovered at a metal recycling facility. The live 155 mm round was detonated by an EOD unit. The status of the 16-inch round was not reported.

• A 3-inch illumination projectile was found at a construction site.

• While cleaning a shed, the owner found a 2½-inch rocket, a 60 mm illumination mortar round with a fuse and an M9 aircraft parachute flare.

• A large quantity of crystallized civilian dynamite was found at a residence.

• A Civil War buff was killed when one of the cannonballs he collected exploded.

Give some thought to that ordnance item that’s sitting on your desk as a souvenir or conversation piece. If you really want to keep it, make sure you know its history and follow Department of the Army Pamphlet 385-64, Chapter 13-6, for guidance on how inert ammunition should be properly marked, identified and inspected. You can’t be too careful. Even museums have had items they’ve displayed for years turn out to be live when properly inspected and evaluated.

If you encounter anything resembling ammunition or ammunition components, follow the three R’s of explosive safety:

• Recognize. Be on the safe side. If you think the item might be a piece of UXO, consider it one. Do not touch or move it.

• Retreat. Get away from the item and tell others to keep away. If you can, mark the area without getting too close. That will help the EOD team find it later.

• Report. Contact the nearest security, law enforcement or EOD unit. Provide them as much information as you can about what you saw and where it is located. Be sure to let removal personnel know how to contact you in case they need help in locating the item again.

Remember, if you didn’t drop it, don’t pick it up. Not every bomb looks like a bomb. Even UXO fragments can explode and should not be touched or moved.

The Defense Environmental Network and Information Exchange has a website that provides information and educational materials on UXO to help you stay safe. Visit it at https://www.denix.osd.mil/uxo. Don’t be a dud; follow the three R’s of explosive safety. They may help keep you in one piece.

  • 9 April 2017
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1349
  • Comments: 0