Recently, during the excavation phase of the new Basic Training Complex Four construction project at Fort Jackson, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District discovered white phosphorous grenades on the site.
“As soon as we saw white smoke erupting from the ground,” said Eric Jones, project manager, “we knew we had a problem. The area was immediately cleared and the Fort Jackson Fire Department and the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit were called in to assess the situation.”
It was quickly determined by the EOD unit that the smoke was from white phosphorous grenades, also known as ghost grenades, which were used as a signaling device during World War II. The initial findings from Fort Jackson’s EOD unit concluded that eight grenades had ignited at once when the excavator being used on the project scraped the 75-year-old casings. The EOD unit did a surface sweep of the area and found 55 more grenades. They took all of the grenades and properly disposed of them at an approved range on Fort Jackson.
The Corps and Fort Jackson always prepare for anything and everything that could arise during a new construction project, including finding unexploded ordnance. Because of this, the two organizations worked together to remedy the issue quickly and efficiently.
While Corps employees were still on high alert, the immediate alarm subsided and the area was properly roped off by the EOD unit until Corps’ experts from Huntsville Center’s Military Munitions Design Center arrived. Since Fort Jackson’s EOD unit doesn’t perform sub-surface clearing, it was necessary that the Design Center personnel were called in.
“Since safety is the Corps’ number one concern, we wanted to ensure that the entire site had been swept and cleared before moving forward,” said Jones. “The Munitions and Explosives of Concern Reconnaissance (MEC Recon) team swept the area and provided step-by-step guidance to mediate the problem.”
It took the MEC Recon team two days to thoroughly sweep and search approximately 10 acres where they found four more grenades.
Due to finding the grenades, there are several additional precautions that must be taken before proceeding with the completion of this project and Charleston District and Fort Jackson are in the process of weighing all the options prior to making a final decision.
Just like most Army installations, Fort Jackson has a long history and over time locations of barracks, ranges and other facilities shift to different areas on the base, so finding unexploded ordnance on an old Army base is not uncommon.
Luckily, no one was injured in this event, but this provides an example of always being cautious. Even if they are old, munitions can be dangerous. If you think you may have found a possible military munition or an unfamiliar object, please practice the three Rs; Recognize, Retreat, Report. Under no circumstances should you ever disturb or pick up a possible munition.