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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — If you see something and you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it and call Mommy.

That’s sound advice coming from the 7-year-old who recently imparted it, says Yokosuka Naval Base’s safety officer Walter “Lucky” Hawkins, and it’s the gist of the message being spread around the base community after recent finds of munitions at Naval Air Facility Atsugi and the Ikego Family Housing Area.

This year, a 10-year-old girl and Ikego’s fire department both found pieces of ammunition on the hillside behind Kamakura Tower on the housing area and two boys and an adult woman discovered detonating fuses near Ikego’s campgrounds and took them home, according to base reports. All munitions were uncovered in areas considered “off limits” to military personnel, such as caves and hillsides, Hawkins said.

In a separate, unrelated incident, workers found 17,000 rounds of large-caliber, small-arms ammunition March 21 underneath the first hole at Atsugi’s golf course, Atsugi spokesman Brian Naranjo said.

“We’re not sure of its origin, but it was buried a few feet down and stacked neatly,” Naranjo said. “Security marked a perimeter and we called the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit to take it away.”

The same procedures are followed when munitions are found at Ikego, but the recent finds prompted the base to additionally shore up access to off-limits areas, seal up caves around the campgrounds and step up a public awareness campaign.

“These are isolated incidents and we don’t want to be alarmist,” Hawkins said. “We just want to let people know that they may find this stuff out there and that we have policies and procedures to handle it.”

Ikego residents aren’t overly concerned, but it’s better to act now rather than later, said Ikego Officer in Charge Lt. Cmdr. Kirstina Shore

“We don’t know how stable those caves are — some of them are 60-plus years old,” Shore said. “We’ve been wanting to work on them for a while.”

Ammunition was manufactured, loaded and stored at Ikego since 1937, first by the Japanese Imperial Navy, then later by the U.S. Army through both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. The U.S. Navy used Ikego’s depot until 1983, when the area was converted to storage, and later to family housing.

“The U.S. and Japan cleaned up a great deal of it, and for the most part, they did a good job,” Hawkins said. “But from time to time, we find more when we’re building roads or doing construction projects.”

EOD is now incorporating a talk on unexploded ordnance for all those attending Yokosuka Naval Base’s mandatory orientation brief. Safety talks are also being given in base schools, Hawkins said. And, to familiarize people with what old ammunition might look like, pictures are being posted at bus stops, on Channel 12, and in the newsletter that will be mailed to each Ikego resident.

“Ammunition could look like a tin can, and not something you’d recognize as a bullet or a bomb,” Hawkins said. “So we’re telling people if you see any old-looking metal, leave it alone and contact security immediately.”

A plan is currently in the works to construct 700 more homes in Ikego by 2015 as the U.S. military hands other land back to the government of Japan.

Before breaking ground at Ikego for the 854 homes that exist there now, surveys turned up extensive cultural artifacts that prompted a six-year period of archeological research and mitigation, Shore said.

“It’s certainly a possibility that artifacts and or munitions might turn up in the future,” Shore said. “If that happens, we’ll go [through] the same drill.”


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