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Grissom munitions stays safe, mission-ready

GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind. -- When thinking of large piles of explosives, safe and boring probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind, but that's just how the 434th Maintenance Squadron likes it.

Master Sgt. Bobby Horton, 434th MXS munitions accountability systems officer, is the man in charge of keeping track of and maintaining all bullets, flares and explosives used by Grissom personnel.

"Our main purpose here is to maintain safety, accountability and serviceability for all of Grissom's munitions," said Horton.

The munitions that Horton maintains come in a wide variety and serve many different functions.

"We've got 9mm rounds, 5.56mm, 7.62mm, detonation chord, C-4, shaped charges, grenades, training explosives and all kinds of munitions," he said. "We mainly provide support for security forces, explosive ordnance disposal and combat arms training and maintenance."

Though one probably wouldn't expect it, Grissom keeps a great quantity of explosives on hand, said Horton.

"We've got about $8-10 million in explosives at any given time," he said. "It adds up pretty fast."

The explosives are stored in a hardened structure called an earth-covered magazine. It is a building made of one-foot thick steel-reinforced concrete and covered in two feet of dirt. The weakest point on the building is a foot-thick steel door in the front of the structure, which opens to an 800-foot cleared blast zone. Those who work in this bunker often refer to it as ‘the igloo', said Horton.

Many explosives within the igloo are separated by thick blocks of sand, meant to keep the materials from interacting and to contain any blasts which may occur.

"We keep certain munitions isolated from each other because not all of them play nicely together," he laughed.

Safety, of course, is a constant concern when working with any form of explosives, said Jerry Skiles, 434th Air Refueling Wing weapons safety manager.

"I go out to the igloo two to three times a week to do inspections," said Skiles. "I make sure everyone is in compliance with regulations and taking proper precautions."

Skiles' presence is meant to serve as a reminder of the dangers of working with explosives.

"I'm like the police car sitting on the side of the road," said Skiles. "People see it and they slow down and make sure they're not doing anything wrong.

"When they see me, they remember those safety procedures," he added. "It keeps them from getting complacent."

Monitoring weapons and their use is a task that can seem tedious and repetitive, but the results have been well worth the effort, said Skiles.

"We have an excellent safety record here at Grissom," he said. "Zero injuries have ever resulted from explosive incidents, and we're constantly reviewing and updating our procedures to make sure it stays at zero."

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. Men and women from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.