ALLIED FORCE NEWS

Bombs to the Balkans

by Staff Sergeant Christopher Larsen, USAR,  and Major Dick Tremain, USAR (Ret.)

When the Air Force placed a rush order for more ammunition for NATO's air war in the Balkans, a group of Army Reserve soldiers shifted from training to providing real-life support.

The recently concluded NATO air campaign in the Balkans changed the daily routine of many U.S. military personnel. In a pattern typical of a major military contingency, soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors, including many from the reserve components, set aside their normal peacetime tasks and assumed missions in support of the NATO effort. Servicemen and women dropped what they were doing and undertook new jobs created by the operation. One place where this phenomenon of war could be observed was Hawthorne Army Depot, Nevada, which became a beehive of activity thanks to the Air Force's need for munitions. This demand for munitions diverted a contingent of Army Reserve soldiers from their normal training to provide support.

At Hawthorne, crews of reservists and civilian contractors banded, packed, loaded, and transported bombs and other ordnance for use in the Balkans as part of Operation Noble Anvil. Thirty soldiers from three reserve units were sent to the depot to handle the shipping. The troops, from the 3d Corps Support Command in Des Moines, Iowa; the 802d Ordnance Company in Gainesville, Georgia; and the 357th Ordnance Company in Romney, West Virginia, spent almost 2 weeks—their entire annual training period—working to fulfill an urgent request from the Air Force for more ammunition. Ultimately, more than 16,000 750-pound bombs were transported, along with tail fin assemblies, fuzes, and boosters.

When the three units were tasked with the new mission, they were taking part in Exercise Golden Cargo '99 at Tooele Army Depot, Utah, and Sierra Army Depot, California. Golden Cargo is an annual exercise in which Army Reserve units transport ordnance as part of a program to reposition Army war stocks. The 802d Ordnance Company had just arrived at Tooele when it was ordered to Hawthorne, 450 miles to the west.

As Chief Warrant Officer (W-3) David Kalb, the operations officer for the mission, saw it, the diversion of the units to Hawthorne offered them "a real-life mission. This is the best training we can get. Mixing the military with the civilian contractors works very well." Kalb, an insurance agent in civilian life, observed that the movement operations also helped to teach the reservists the technical aspects of their mission.

Two Army Reserve soldiers from the 802d Ordnance Company place bands around a 750-pound bomb to secure it on a wooden pallet for shipment to Europe
Two Army Reserve soldiers from the 802d Ordnance Company place bands around a 750-pound bomb to secure it on a wooden pallet for shipment to Europe

Heavy Work

The mission these Ordnance Corps soldiers had to perform was a heavy one: 750-pound bombs had to be prepared to go nearly halfway around the world. The bombs, sitting on metal racks inside concrete storage bunkers, first were transported to "work pads" scattered throughout the depot grounds.

Staff Sergeant James Hoopaugh, a member of the 802d Ordnance Company, was responsible for moving some of the bombs. Hoopaugh, a machine operator for Wrigley's chewing gum in civilian life, drove the forklifts with practiced skill, gently placing several tons of high explosives on top of a work rack.

Once at the work pads, the bombs were checked to ensure that they were in good shape and then placed on the new, wood pallets on which they would be traveling. In one area, Specialist Cynthia Lemon of the 802d worked with a banding machine to strap the bombs onto the pallet. The "bander," as it is called, looks like a cross between a big pliers and bolt cutters. Her face protected by a plastic visor and her hands clad in thick leather gloves, Lemon worked the ratchet, tightening the tape until the bombs were strapped securely to the wood. Lemon, who is a student at the University of Georgia in Athens, checked the bands, nodded approval, and moved on to the next pallet.

In these photos, reservists tighten the bands around bombs on pallets. Note the "bander" the soldiers are using to make the bands as tight as possible.  

In these photos, reservists tighten the bands around bombs on pallets. Note the "bander" the soldiers are using to make the bands as tight as possible.

In these photos, reservists tighten the bands around bombs on pallets. Note the "bander" the soldiers are using to make the bands as tight as possible.

Ready to Go

Once the bombs had been strapped to pallets, they were picked up again by forklifts and taken to a long row of green and red steel shipping boxes, similar in appearance to trailers. Each container can hold 48 bombs. After the containers were loaded, they were put on railcars for shipment to a West Coast seaport. At the port, they were placed on containerships for transport to Europe.

Sergeant Kevin Naughton and Specialist George Prime, both of the 802d, were two soldiers who worked on readying the containers for loading with munitions. The containers were well used, and some of them needed some work before they could be loaded. Naughton used a long-handled pipe wrench to bang on the bottom of one container in order to bend it back in place, while Prime used a sledgehammer to do the same job on another container. Once the containers met the standards for use, they were loaded with cargo and moved to the railhead to wait for the flatcars that took them to the port.

Getting ammunition ready to be shipped for combat isn't a simple 9-to-5 job. The reservists and civilian crews worked 12 to 16 hours a day for more than a week in order to meet their mission requirements. For many people taking part in the operation, it was the first time they had loaded munitions that would be used in a combat situation, and the serious nature of their work was etched on their faces.

An Army Reserve soldier joins with a civilian munitions handler who works at Hawthorne Army Depot to band bombs to pallets as part of the shipping process. a reservist uses a sledgehammer to straighten the underside of a shipping container. The containers had to be brought up to military standards before they could be used to transport munitions for NATO's use in Kosovo. An Army reservist moves a pallet of bombs into position for shipment to the Air Force in Europe. The containers in which the pallets will be loaded for shipment to Europe can be seen in the background.
An Army Reserve soldier joins with a civilian munitions handler who works at Hawthorne Army Depot to band bombs to pallets as part of the shipping process (top left). Working with civilians added to the realistic nature of the training the reservists received. At bottom left, an Army reservist moves a pallet of bombs into position for shipment to the Air Force in Europe. The containers in which the pallets will be loaded for shipment to Europe can be seen in the background. Above, a reservist uses a sledgehammer to straighten the underside of a shipping container. The containers had to be brought up to military standards before they could be used to transport munitions for NATO's use in Kosovo.

Some might worry about having so much explosive power lying around. But as Staff Sergeant Ken Boyd of the 802d explained, everything is stabilized before shipping. "We're putting blocking into the MILVAN. It keeps the rounds from moving."

In addition, the entire depot's bunkers are constructed in such a manner that, if there is an accident, the force of the explosion will be directed upward and away from the surrounding storage area. The depot is an impressive sight. Spread across the Nevada scrubland, it is visible from almost 20 miles away. Surprisingly for early June, when the three units were working at Hawthorne, the temperatures were in the 40's and 50's.

Although the work was hard, the days long, and the weather cool, the soldiers of the three units completed their mission. They made sure that the Air Force would have the power it needed to bring the air operation over the Balkans to a successful conclusion. ALOG

Staff Sergeant Christopher Larsen is the Senior Public Affairs Noncommissioned Officer, 366th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Des Moines, Iowa.

Major Dick Tremain was the Public Affairs Officer of the 19th Theater Army Area Command, Des Moines, Iowa. Now retired, he is the command's alcohol and drug control coordinator.