Proper Explosives Storage
SGT. 1ST CLASS BENJAMIN BRADISH
Headquarters and Headquarters Troop
3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment
4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division
Fort Carson, Colorado
While in Afghanistan on my fourth deployment, I was stationed at Forward Operating Base Findlay-Shields, which was one of the safest locations I’d been over the past 10 years. The FOB was just across the street from Jalalabad, and nothing much happened there during my entire stay — except for that one day.
FOB Findlay-Shields was primarily a base for National Guard Soldiers who worked as provincial reconstructive teams (PRT) and agricultural development teams (ADT). Their missions were more related to civilian assistance rather than combat. Our job as an active-duty cavalry squadron was to serve as the PRT’s and ADT’s force protection, as well as route security for the surrounding area.
On April 15, 2012, we were surprised by an enemy assault in which a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device was driven up against our base’s back wall and detonated. Immediately following the explosion, several insurgents armed with assault rifles and hand grenades made their way onto our FOB.
In an effort to encounter the least amount of resistance while inflicting the greatest amount of damage, the insurgents intentionally targeted the area where the PRTs and ADTs were housed in barracks huts, which are plywood structures about the size of a cabin that house 8-10 individuals. During the gun battle that ensued, the insurgents traveled from B-hut to B-hut, opening the doors and tossing one or more hand grenades inside. Due to the dry conditions and climate of the area, this caused several of the B-huts to catch fire. Because the Soldiers were focused on engaging the enemy and/or evacuating the area, the fires spread quickly.
My containerized housing unit was located about 50 meters from the breach point in the wall. Just after the explosion, I had quickly donned my protective equipment, grabbed my weapon and ran to where I could be of most help. While assisting an individual with a gunshot wound, I heard another loud explosion. My first thought was a second VBIED had detonated and this attack had just become much more complex and serious. A passing PRT Soldier told me their B-huts were burning and that the explosions were due to the C-4 some Soldiers had stored underneath their bunks. From the initial four B-huts that caught fire from the insurgents attack, another 22 buildings were on fire as the result of more than a dozen secondary C-4 explosions.
Once the insurgents were defeated, the area was cordoned off. No one was allowed to get within 100 meters of the B-huts, and local national firefighters were called because there were no resident fire personnel on the FOB. The local Afghan firefighters arrived on the scene 20 minutes later, but with the blazes out of control and the constant detonation of ammunition and hand grenades from Soldiers’ personal caches, the decision was made to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading rather than fighting it directly. This involved intentionally burning several other B-huts to create a fire break.
As a result of this incident, the FOB’s leadership was put under the microscope. The investigation focused on the lack of inspections of Soldiers’ quarters, the failure to follow Army regulations and standard operating procedures regarding the storage of explosives, and explosives safety. There was one casualty, an Afghan security contractor, and a few severe injuries.
This incident could have been so much worse. Had these explosives been properly stored, a lot of damage to equipment could have been prevented that day. The enemy we face is dangerous enough. There’s no need to make it worse for ourselves.
Did You Know?
The Range & Weapons Safety Toolbox is a centralized collection of online resources for managing range operations and safe weapons handling. The toolbox hosts various references and materials, including publications, training support packages, multimedia products, ammunition and explosives information, and safety messages and alert. Check it out at https://safety.army.mil/ON-DUTY/Range-and-Weapons-Safety-Toolbox.