European edition, Saturday, July 21, 2007

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Engineers are building a large ammunition dump here after safety officials pointed out that the Army’s new 830-home military housing area at Netzaberg is too close to an existing ammunition dump.

Work on the new ammunition holding area — that stores everything from small-arms rounds to tank and artillery shells for troops training at Grafenwöhr — got under way this month just as the first residents moved into houses at Netzaberg.

The new housing area will include middle and elementary schools (due to open next year), a child development center, a gas station and a shoppette. It sits on a plateau overlooking many of the ranges at Grafenwöhr and will have its own access road to Grafenwöhr’s main post.

Netzaberg’s proximity to the training area makes it a convenient place for soldiers to live. However, planners did not factor in the safety zone surrounding the training area’s northern ammo holding site when the housing area was built, according to Dirk Kellar, safety director for the Joint Multinational Training Command.

Lt. Col. Brad Duffey, the command’s reserve component liaison officer, said the Army is using $185,000 worth of borrowed military manpower to build the new holding area. The project has a cash budget of $90,000, although it is $17,000 under budget to date, he said.

Soldiers from the Illinois National Guard’s 631st Engineer Company were hard at work Thursday building four new ammunition storage pads in a forest clearing on the other side of the training area from Netzaberg.

Kellar said the new holding area will be able to store up to 30,000 pounds of high-explosive ammunition such as artillery or mortar rounds or 100,000 pounds of tank and small-arms ammunition — enough ammunition for a heavy brigade combat team training at Grafenwöhr. Work on the new area will be completed this month.

The northern holding area will not be closed, but will only store small-arms ammunition, he said.

The new ammunition area needed to be at least 1,433 feet from the nearest inhabited building and 860 feet from the nearest public road, but because it is in the training area, it is far from homes or streets, Kellar added.

Plans for the new holding area were developed based on data compiled by a team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Europe District, which checked out the site in March, Duffey said.

Engineers designed earth berms surrounding the storage pads to contain any explosions in case of an accident. There are also lightning rods to protect ammunition from being set off in a storm, he said.

Once the facility is finished, units training at Grafenwöhr will be able to collect ammunition from a larger ammunition supply point and store it at the holding area, one of several such sites in the training area, before issuing it to troops, he said.

Staff Sgt. Joe Boyd, a 631st soldier, said 31 engineers from his unit are at Grafenwöhr for three weeks working on the project.

So far, the engineers have excavated three out of four pads for the new holding area, which is about the size of three football fields, he said.

“We have one pad that we can’t touch until the Germans tear down some trees,” Boyd, 38, of Mount Carmel, Ill., said as a bulldozer worked to build up a berm behind him.

The project has provided excellent training for both new and experienced engineers, Boyd added.

“A lot of us haven’t worked with concrete and we are having a crash course in it,” he said.

Spc. Derek Turner, 22, of Palestine, Ill., is the company medic but he’s been getting his hands dirty bending steel cages to reinforce the pads, helping pour concrete and working on some of the heavy equipment.

Turner, who is an emergency medical technician on an ambulance crew in civilian life, said he is used to working with machinery.

“My grandparents owned a gravel pit and worked with trucks and loaders so I also know how to do that stuff,” he said.

The National Guard troops will finish the new holding area before they leave Germany, Duffey said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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