Kunsan explosives team has a blast disposing of 50-year old bazooka round
January 17, 2005
PYONGTAEK, South Korea — What do you do if you're working Air Force bomb disposal and some troops show up at your door holding a live anti-tank round that would have better been left where they found it?
You maintain your composure and, without shouting, flailing your arms or doing anything that might make them drop the round, motion for it to be placed — very, very gently — on the ground.
That's just what the explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD, people at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea found themselves doing one cold, sunny morning some weeks back.
Some of their counterparts from the South Korean air force EOD unit knocked on the shop door of Kunsan’s 8th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight, part of the 8th Civil Engineer Squadron.
One of them held in his hands a 3.5-inch American bazooka anti-tank round from the Korean War, probably manufactured during World War II.
“It was all rusty and you could tell it's been sitting out or sitting somewhere buried lots of years,” said Tech. Sgt. Ronald Helgert. “That’s why we couldn’t legibly see any marking on there.”
It’s “not every day” that the EOD people see a round like that one, he said. “I’ve seen it in the States — similar rounds — but it is a Korean War vintage, and possibly World War II.
“Actually, the Korean EOD personnel, we kind of got a relationship with each other, they brought it over, not knowing what it was, and we said after looking at it that it was still live,” Helgert said.
“We made ’em stay outside, a little bit away, because we don’t want to yell at ’em or anything and say ‘You guys did wrong,’” he said. “But generally, we don’t like bringing stuff to” where people are concentrated. “We would have taken care of it where they found it. That’s what we normally do on the base.
“It was exciting for us,” said Helgert. “Because, for one, very few people get to do this kind of ‘render-safe’ procedure on an ordnance like this. Usually, it’s in training, so we don’t have that real-world aspect to us, so this is a big assignment for us.”
Using their portable X-ray gear, they soon could make out the explosive charge and fuse components. That confirmed it wasn’t just a dummy training round. Inside was 1.9 pounds of explosive charge.
That got several things going at once.
Airmen got shovels and dug a three-foot hole for the round while others started carrying over sandbags, which they set up around the rim of the hole. At the same time, others got on the phones, passing word up the chain of command that EOD personnel were working to “render safe” a live round.
With the help of airmen from the 8th Security Forces Squadron, the area was cordoned off, roadblocks were set up and buildings in the immediate area were evacuated.
Meanwhile, back at the hole, EOD airmen used a “de-arming” tool to disable the round’s fuse components. It took them about half an hour from the time they started digging to the time they had the round de-armed.
“Once we found out everything was OK, we released the cordon and started letting people through,” Helgert said.
But their work wasn’t over.
They put the round in a container, tied it down inside a truck, then made the short drive to the EOD disposal range. There, they set the round on the ground, put about 20 sandbags around it, and got out two blocks of C4 plastic explosive, each 1.25 pounds, and blasting caps.
Finally, after positioning themselves about 300 feet uprange, came the real fun for the EOD crew: to “set off the C4 with those blasting caps,” Helgert said.
“And then,” he said, “it basically vanished.”