Ammo techs rid mortars of deadly gas
By Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis
| Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | September 29, 2005
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Ammunition technicians here help make dangerous, expired ammunition safe for Marines preparing for deployment to Iraq.
Thanks to the efforts of Marines from the 1st Force Service Support Group, ammunition can be used without wait.
The Marines detoxified mortar rounds last month using a standard process to renew the explosive ammunition.
In nine days, a 10-man crew of 1st FSSG ammo techs repackaged a total of 1,838 mortar rounds from here and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms.
Since gas discharges from the shells as Marines detoxify them, they must wear gas masks and suits while working with the $636,000 worth of ammunition, said Chief Warrant Officer William E. Lanham, officer in charge for 1st FSSG’s Ammunition Supply Point.
“We save Marines’ lives,” said Lance Cpl. Leif J. Johnson, an ammunition technician for 1st FSSG’s Ammunition Supply Point.
That’s because Marines could be exposed to the toxic gas while waiting for the ammunition to ventilate, said Johnson.
“Mortar men had to wait for 10 minutes before using the rounds,” said Lanham. “In combat you don’t have time to air out rounds, you have to use them right away.”
Without live, functional mortars, training for mortarmen awaiting deployment could have been compromised, said Cpl. Jared A. Hebert, a mortarman with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, who has deployed twice to Iraq.
“It’s like never firing a rifle and saying, ‘you're good’,” said Hebert. “You’re going to need all the practice you can get, because over there (Iraq) it’s the real thing.”
Although the process enhanced combat and training readiness for Marines in Iraq now, it is actually part of a large-scale endeavor by Marine Corps Systems Command to detoxify all contaminated ammo. All bases with contaminated ammunition were ordered to perform the one-time detoxification process, said Lanham.
The process included airing out, scrubbing and repackaging the bowling pin-shaped mortar rounds into metal ammunition cans.
“We also (wrap) the rounds with Gas-Absorbent Modules,” said Sgt. Stacy L. Houser, an ammunition technician section leader with 1st FSSG.
Gas-Absorbent Modules, which are red plastic rings snapped around the neck of the round, top off the process to ensure the ammunition stays non-toxic by absorbing phosphine gas.
After the ammunition cans were sealed, many of the rounds were prepared for shipment to Iraq.
The remaining rounds are in storage until 1st Marine Division requests them for training.
With the detoxification complete, the ammo techs have saved the Marine Corps hundreds of thousands of dollars and raised Camp Pendleton’s readiness to a whole new bar.