Pins and Needles


Question: Why should the Exercise Team Chief contact the safety office to develop a plan and risk assessment before conducting training and exercise events involving ammunition and explosives (AE)? Could it be to preclude an explosives mishap involving loss of equipment, limb, or life?

The Defense Explosives Safety Regulation (DESR) 6055.09 states that all exercises involving AE should have the responsible commander approve the plan in writing, ensuring personnel are aware of all hazards associated with explosives operations in a training and/or exercise environment.

Air Base X is a case in point. Base X was tasked with conducting a training exercise involving AE. A Security Forces Team, including an M60 gunner, was assigned to guard a strategic weapon. The aggressor force’s objective was to overtake the weapon. In addition, an exercise evaluator who was not trained in explosives safety was assigned for observation.


In this real-life scenario, the aggressors were inserted approximately 1 day’s hike to the Ready Alert Pad where their objective lay. The M60 gunner was set up near the weapon on a revetment. The aggressors infiltrated the base and struck the Ready Alert Pad. The Security Forces Team maintained their position until the aggressors went on a full-scale assault. The aggressor’s leader called for grenades; therefore, hand grenades were deployed on the M60’s position. Unfortunately, one of the grenades landed near the gunner’s left thigh, and the next few seconds were the slowest in this young Airman’s life. The grenade functioned as designed and ripped the gunner’s thigh apart. The scent of sulfur, burned tissue, and dirt filled the air—and so did the screams. The Airman was evacuated by medevac to the local military treatment facility and later passed away due to complications from the wound.

When safety personnel investigate mishaps, they look for the step (or steps) that, if corrected or eliminated, can help prevent the same mishap from reoccurring. Safety personnel discovered several instances where corrections could have helped prevent the Airman’s death.

First, the initiation point for the hand grenade simulators and type of grenades used were never discussed during the planning process for the Base X exercise. DESR 6055.09 lists specific minimum distances that must be maintained from personnel and vehicles when simulators are initiated; 125 feet in this case. Only specifically-listed simulators are to be used in training and exercise scenarios. In this instance, one of the aggressors had taken home an unauthorized grenade from a previous training event. The unauthorized grenade was intended for incapacitating personnel and/or demolition, not for use as a training aid. The aggressor intended to use this training exercise as a way of getting rid of the grenade.

Second, the exercise’s evaluator lost sight of the aggressors, failed to call a “Knock It Off” when he lost situational awareness of the proximity of the aggressors to the Security Forces Team, and allowed the aggressor’s lead to call for grenades.

Third, the exercise was conducted without a developed plan, risk assessment, or approval from the wing commander.

Had a risk assessment been accomplished in accordance with DESR 6055.09, each of the missteps that occurred during this training exercise would have likely been caught and avoided.

Hereafter, for all upcoming training, ensure a plan has been developed and a risk assessment has been conducted. Make sure Wing Safety is in on the planning. It could save a life!