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Safety measures help lessen ordnance dangers

A number of safety measures are in place to help protect installation visitors and members of the Fort McCoy community from the danger of unexploded ordnance.
A sign warns of the impending dangers of the North Impact Area at Fort McCoy.
A sign warns of the impending dangers of the North Impact Area at Fort McCoy. (Photo by Lou Ann Mittelstaedt)

That starts with getting the word out about the possibility of encountering unexploded ordnance, as is required by Army regulations, according to Gene Nall, Fort McCoy Range Safety Officer.

Nall said that it is important for members of the Fort McCoy community and the public to remember that almost every area at Fort McCoy outside of the cantonment area was used as a training area or a firing range at one time or another in the installation's 91-year history.

While injuries from encountering unexploded ordnance have been reported at other military bases, Nall said Fort McCoy hasn't had an injury from people encountering unexploded ordnance in recent history, according to statistics from the Safety Office.

Unexploded ordnance tends to be a concern in the fall because it is the end of the installation's peak training season, which runs from April to September.

Nall said members of Range Operations regularly inspect the training areas for unexploded ordnance after each training use.

Range Operations also relies on people or unit members to report unexploded ordnance because the ordnance may be covered by soil and not visible at the time of inspection. Military units may encounter unexploded ordnance when digging foxholes. The ordnance also may become visible when frost constricts the ground, and the ordnance is forced to the surface, he said.

Units training at Fort McCoy get information about what to do in case of encountering unexploded munitions during Range Operations safety briefings.

788th Ordnance role

Range Operations contacts the 788th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) about the ordnance, as necessary. 1st Lt. Rusty Ravenhorst, 788th commander, said 788th Ordnance personnel will detonate/dispose of the ordnance in place or take other action to render the ordnance harmless if detonation isn't possible.

"The most likely places that ordnance will be encountered are in the North Impact Area or on the ranges that surround that area," Ravenhorst said. "South Post also has several small-arms ranges that may pose ordnance concerns. We've seen everything from World War II ordnance to modern ordnance on the installation."

EOD personnel undergo nine months of rigorous training to learn how to dispose of ordnance. Ravenhorst advises all untrained personnel to leave ordnance alone and report its presence to the local authorities.

Visitors coming to Fort McCoy on fall weekends may face the dangers of live ordnance if they are uninformed about weekend training, Nall said.

Warning signs

Signs warning people to keep out of training areas have been posted at various points, he said. People are warned not to go past these signs (that have the words DANGER and explain the danger) or past such things as closed gates or over fences at ranges.

"The fences are there for a reason," Nall said. "They're there to protect you. It's dangerous to go over them. Stay away from ranges!"

People seeing soldiers training at a particular location should avoid them, Nall said. Hunters, anglers and other visitors can call the game line at (608) 388-GAME (4263) to check for units training at McCoy and their locations. Regulations and maps governing hunting and fishing also can be obtained from the Permit Sales Office, building 103, or more information is available by calling (608) 388-3337 from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.

Even people taking all possible precautions can encounter duds. Duds are pieces of unexploded ordnance that have been fired, but failed to function properly.

Unexploded ordnance can come in just about any size and shape - from a small simulator up to a 155 mm howitzer round - and in many colors, Nall said.

"One of the biggest tips we can give you is that if you don't know what it is, don't pick it up," Nall said. "Parents need to tell their children not to pick anything up at Fort McCoy. Unexploded ordnance can be very colorful, which makes it tempting for children - and adults alike - to pick it up."

People who see ordnance should report it by calling Range Operations at (608) 388-4848, the Directorate of Protective Services front desk at 388-2266 or 911. All ordnance encountered on the installation should be considered dangerous until identified by an EOD professional.

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