In the day-to-day grind at Naval Support Facilities (NSFs) Dahlgren and Indian Head, it is easy to forget that danger lurks underfoot. Of course, unexploded ordnance (UXO) is a concern at nearly every military installation, but decades of explosives research and testing at Dahlgren and Indian Head make it especially important for all personnel to maintain vigilance. If UXO is encountered, taking the proper course of action can mean the difference between life and death.
UXO is most often encountered during construction projects that dig beneath the soil and along water, where weather, tides and erosion can wash up old ordnance. Hunters who walk beyond established roads and trails also find UXO in Dahlgren and Indian Head.
Identifying UXO is the first step. "That is something that is not as easy as it sounds, because not all UXO is the familiar shapes, such as projectiles, bombs, missiles, mines, grenades... that the average person associates as some type of ordnance," said Jerry Payne, explosives safety officer for NSASP.
"Quite often, UXO can be just a component of all-up round such as a fuse, igniter, blasting cap, primer or some type cartridge actuated device," he adds. "It can be extremely hard to tell sometimes."
Time has taken a toll on much of the UXO uncovered at Dahlgren and Indian Head and the bases' annexes in Pumpkin Neck and Stump Neck. Corrosion, deterioration and encrustment may cause ordnance to lose its shape and outline, while also causing it to blend in with the color of the soil.
Safety and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) experts have determined the course of action that must be taken if potential UXO is encountered.
- Mark the location if possible (avoid sticking markers in the ground)
- Look at your feet and surrounding area to see if there are anymore items around.
- Turn around and walk back the way came at least 300 meters/1,000 feet.
- Call 911 or Security Dispatch at (540) 653-8095. Advise them of what the item might be if possible.
- Wait in a safe place to meet Security and EOD for any questions they might have.
- Do not go in for a closer look.
- Do not touch or disturb the item in any way.
- Do not walk backwards away from the item.
- Do not use a cell phone near the item.
- Do not neglect to report the item to Base Security.
- Do not leave the safe area until meeting with Base Security and EOD.
The importance of reporting potential UXO and treating suspicious items with extreme caution cannot be over-emphasized. Between Dahlgren and Indian Head, the installations have hosted a combined 216 years of explosives research and development.
"The history at NSF Indian Head goes back to 1890, when Indian Head first became a Naval Ordnance Station," said Payne. "Between 1891 and 1921 the Navy basically used a lot of area there as a firing range for various calibers of guns from 1" to 16," testing both armor and guns.
"The Marine Corps fired heavy calibers weapons from Quantico into Indian Head up to 1934," adds Payne. "It was used for jet propulsion research from 1940 to 1944. During transport of propellant grains by railroad between 1927 and 1942 and again in the late 1980s before the railroad was abandoned, grains were seen spilling from the trains."
Though not as old as Indian Head, Dahlgren poses it own dangers. "Dahlgren was established in 1918," said Payne. "During World War II parts of the station were used as bombing range. NSF Dahlgren hosts the Navy's longest river gun range.
"The Naval Surface Warfare Centers at Indian Head and Dahlgren are research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) activities. Because of practices in the past, both facilities have multiple UXO sites."