NZDF

Stay Safe: EOD Operations in Southern Lebanon

Lebanon Nov 2007. CPODI Lance Graham and LDR Raupatu Ormsby discussing the use of a improvised shape charge on a 155mm Smoke Projectile
CPODI Lance Graham and LDR Raupatu Ormsby discuss using an improvised shape charge on a 155mm Smoke Projectile

by LT CDR Trevor Leslie

30 November 2007

“Stay safe” is the most common expression I’ve heard since arriving in Lebanon and are the last words spoken by Hani, our locally employed medic, prior to donning Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to conduct a Render Safe Procedure (RSP) on sub-munitions found in the contaminated sites dotted around this beautiful ancient country.  

My cell-phone has that same message on its screen and those are the last words uttered between the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technicians from various agencies prior to loading up with explosives from the Chinese Battalion (CHINBAT) each morning. These words act as a daily reminder of the hazards of life in Lebanon. 

Since the 34 day war concluded on 14 August 2006, cluster bombs have claimed the lives of approximately 30 – 40 locals and international workers and approximately 180 more have been maimed or disfigured.

A few hours before boarding the plane from New Zealand I was informed of the latest fatality -  a British EOD operator working on a site next to ours near the Israeli border. Because of this accident that site is currently suspended, however us Kiwi’s will be opening it back up very soon to continue the clearance.

The Army Engineers and a Navy Diver have systematically searched lanes on land portioned into 50m x 50m tape lined boxes.  My hat goes off to these boys many just past the age of 20.

Without a second thought they head the assault into un-cleared land with their metal detectors, camelbacks and a healthy dose of kiwi humour to cut into the monotony of 7 hours of solid searching daily. After 5 months and more than 120,000 square metres of searched land behind them I can see the job has worn them down but their conversation belies it, and laughter comes as easily as it did during the first few weeks.

The second Leading Diver is conducting the daily EOD and Demolitions checks, thankful for the respite from searching and anxious to initiate the firing sequence and hear the crack of another high order detonation, a pleasing sound to us all as it signifies a productive and safe end to another day of Battle Area Clearance and EOD for our team. 

As you can imagine a lot enters my mind when making the lonely walk  to ‘no mans land’ to RSP these sub-munitions.  With the idle banter fading rapidly and the CP (Control Point) safely behind me I can now clearly see the sets of 3 marking pegs surrounding each individual sub-munitions.

All applicable safeties flash briefly in my mind and I check then recheck them to confirm all is well. Approach angle safe in accordance with the Jet hazard threat posed by the shape charge in each of the dual purpose munitions.  A final check of PPE and clothing…A quick karakia....deep breath …sweet ….let's roll.

Each RSP is conducted methodically, following the same basic procedures unfortunately as each cluster bomb has impacted differently each manual RSP can differ slightly and on several occasions the option to Blow in Place (BIP) is chosen as a safety measure noting the degraded nature and dangerous configuration of some sub-munitions. Once all items have been rendered safe with locations marked by GPS a final visual of the area is conducted before heading back to the CP where preparation is underway to detonate the days haul.

As an interesting contradiction explosives are commonly used to destroy explosive devices and this technique has been utilised effectively by EOD Operators for decades.  However, in areas that cannot withstand a high order (eg. Queen St) a variety of other explosive and non-explosive techniques and tools are available to EOD Operators to render safe ordnance for removal and subsequent disposal.  

Once all items have been successfully destroyed and the site is closed down then comes what I would term the most dangerous part of every day … the drive home. The nerves get worn down when dealing with roads in disrepair, no apparent driving rules and arrogant drivers who are oblivious to others. Thankfully I have spent the last 19 years in Auckland so am used to this traffic bedlam.   

At time of writing, after 5 days of searching in November 07, 104 sub-munitions were located, rendered safe and moved for demolition.  In total the NZDF Battle Area Clearance (BAC) Team has located, rendered safe and destroyed over 1700 sub-munitions since arriving in theatre in Feb 2007. 

Here in Lebanon the weather is deteriorating as winter approaches. The days are shorter and darker.  The sub munitions on the ground are mostly buried or partially buried and due to environmental exposure have become quite unstable and dangerous.  The guys in-theatre experience, training and heightened vigilance more than mitigate the additional threat and I can safely state that all of the team are ready for the challenges the final quarter of the deployment has to offer.

We look forward to seeing you all early in 2008.

Ends

A BRIEF HISTORY OF EOD

The job of Military EOD is to detect, recover, identify, evaluate, render safe and dispose of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) that constitutes a threat to people, material, installations, ships, aircraft and operations

The birth of modern bomb disposal dates to the Battle of Britain in 1940. As the German Luftwaffe blitzed English cities, citizens were killed and wounded in increasing numbers by Unexploded Bombs (UXB). Some of these UXB were duds but many had delay fusing designed to detonate hours later, creating the effect of a 24 hour bombing campaign. Prior to this the Royal Navy were encountering complex influence (Magnetic, Seismic, Acoustic and Pressure Actuated) sea mines with the first German magnetic mine dismantled/recovered on the mudflats of Shoeburyness in 1939.

Initially RNZN Navy Divers were sent to the UK for formal EOD training, however as of 1998 the Naval School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD) now based at EGLIN Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, USA has become the home of training for members of the Operational Dive Team (ODT). An intensive 8 month training campaign is undertaken covering land, air and maritime ordnance. Operators are also trained in the RSP of NZ specific missiles such as the Seasparrow, Maverick and Javelin. 

Recently the Joint Services EOD School was established in Trentham and the first Tri-Service EOD Team Members course was conducted.

This page was last reviewed on 16 November 2012, and is current.