666th EOD destroying contents of closed Bosnian storage sites
VELIKA RIBNICA, Bosnia and Herzegovina — National Guard peacekeepers are having a blast in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Members of the 666th Explosive Ordnance Detachment from Jacksonville, Ala., assisted by engineers and infantry troops from other units, have been destroying munitions from Bosnian armed forces storage sites that have been closed down as part of ongoing forces reductions.
Since they arrived in mid-August, EOD technicians have been spending every other week at the Velika Ribnica demolition range building piles of ammunition, laying C-4 explosives over them and blowing it all up.
Every week, they get from five to seven shipping containers full of munitions that need to be destroyed. So far, they have destroyed about 100,000 pounds of explosives.
“We take the tools to make war away from them [Bosnian armed forces],” said Staff Sgt. James Hayes, an EOD technician. “It makes the country safer.”
The range is the only one in the Multinational Brigade North where large amounts of ammunitions — up to 1,500 pounds — can be destroyed. It is far enough from residential areas, and workers from a nearby rock quarry know to stay away before the blast.
On Thursday, the EOD crew was back at the demolition range, and among those assisting them were Sgt. Gill Anderson of the 147th Finance Battalion, a Guard unit from Roseville, Minn.
Anderson, who normally works at the cashier’s desk of the finance office at Eagle Base, joined in moving the munitions because, she said, she wanted to see more than just her base and whatever she could see of the country when driving to another base.
“It’s just a good experience to give soldiers a better view of the peacekeeping process. It gives us a reason of purpose why we’re here helping the country,” she said. “It’s hard work, but that’s what American soldiers do when they go on missions.”
The range looked like an anthill with all the soldiers moving around as the thermometer slowly climbed from below freezing. The temperatures did little, however, to solidify the mashed potato-like mud the soldiers had to work in.
“If I was a kid, this would be awesome,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Howard of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment as a couple of fellow soldiers pulled him out of ankle-deep mud that immobilized him.
Still, the troops made great progress. Lightning the day before prevented them from getting any work done.
Soldiers teamed up to remove 122 mm armor-piercing artillery rounds from the tubes they were stored in.
“That’s the only way to do it. We couldn’t do it without the support of other units,” Capt. William Dickinson of the 666th EOD said as the munitions pile steadily grew. “We’ll take any help we can get.”
The previous rotation, SFOR 13, had started the destruction of weapons from closed weapons storage sites. The number of sites in MNB North is expected to be reduced from 31 to nine, Dickinson said.
“It doesn’t get any better,” he said. “This is beyond training when you’re getting it at this pace.”
Since Hayes joined the unit in 1994, there has only been one other demolition on scale with Thursday’s blast.
“It’s good experience because we don’t get to do it in the States,” he said.
And Hayes isn’t superstitious about the unit’s designation — which is associated with the devil in the Bible.
“We’re good at our job and nobody ever forgets us,” Hayes said.
“At the end of the day, when you see the big mushroom cloud, the whole sky turns orange, everything shakes, it makes it worth it.”