Misawa team tackles Ripsaw dummies
Stars and Stripes June 22, 2003
AMAGAMORI, Japan — Master Sgt. Kevin Johnson is dead serious when he asks visitors at Ripsaw bombing range here to turn off their cellular telephones.
“We’re using blasting caps that are sensitive to radio frequencies,” said Johnson, the superintendent of Misawa’s explosive ordnance disposal flight.
Johnson and a detail of his EOD specialists spent the past two weeks ridding the air-to-surface, 1,900-acre bombing range of practice munitions. Practice munitions are dropped by U.S. and Japanese fighter pilots at this range 12 miles north of Misawa Air Base.
Japanese regulations prohibit dropping live ordnance at Ripsaw; strafing from aircraft-mounted guns and inert munitions containing marking charges are dropped from fighter aircraft when weather conditions are good.
“We have to clear the range twice monthly between April and October,” Johnson said.
Their main prey: 25-pound inert munitions called BDU-33s that pilots aim at a ground target lying not far from the Pacific Ocean shoreline.
“These bomb dummy units contain a charge about equivalent to a shotgun shell that sends up a puff of smoke for scoring purposes,” said Johnson.
But sometimes the charges don’t ignite and become hazardous.
Also policed-up at the range: 375-kilogram (827 pounds) inert training bombs dropped from Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighters that also contain spotting charges that sometime fail to fire.
EOD specialists gather the BDUs, arrange them in a long line, then place 20 1.25-pound blocks of C-4 explosive on the bombs. Blasting caps set off the explosives.
“Each of the blocks have to touch each other, but they all go off so fast, it sounds like a single blast,” said Staff Sgt. Tracy Bohn of Linden, Tenn., a six year EOD veteran.
After completing preparations for the detonations, EOD troops did a final sweep of the beach area to assure no one was in the area, while Johnson and his troops headed for a small ridge abut half a mile from the charges.
“Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole,” yelled Staff Sgt. John Lewis as he detonated each of the six shots at five minute intervals.
A brilliant orange flashed followed by a chest-thumping burst of noise echoed across the vast acreage for several seconds.
“The local Japanese communities have asked us to wait five minutes between each detonation,” said Johnson. “We also observe quiet hours between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. when the farmers are having lunch.”
Like all EOD specialists, Bohn draws an extra $150 a month in demolition pay for working with explosives.
“It’s a little risky, and probably the most hazardous thing we do,” Johnson says of the range disposal work.
Staff Sgt. Douglas Jones, who has spent 13 years in EOD, said he likes the prestige of the job — from time to time EOD specialists supports the U.S. Secret Service.
“I was in Tokyo last year searching a restaurant to make sure there were no explosives” in the Roppongi eatery where President Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi later dined, he said.
“In my 17 years in EOD, I’ve never heard an EOD troop say ‘I wish I had another job,’” said Johnson. “We’re a 100 percent volunteer career field.”