VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Originally known as Camp Cooke, Vandenberg Air Force base started as a U.S. Army training camp in 1941.
In response to World War II and eventually the Korean conflict, the Army used the land for various anti-aircraft artillery and ordnance training. As a result of the training conducted many years ago, areas of land on Vandenberg still have unexploded ordnance, also known as UXOs.
“Vandenberg was previously used by the Army and Navy for training for WWII and the Korean conflict,” said Steven McKinnon, 30th Space Wing chief of weapons safety. “Live and training mines, mortars, bullets, cannon and navy ship gun shells and grenades were utilized to train, and a large percent didn’t function as designed. Consequently, there have been and are still UXOs remaining in the former training areas. These historic training areas are closed or have limited access.”
With safety always a top priority, ordnance clearing actions have been conducted since the 1950s and continue today.
“UXO clean-up operations have discovered and eliminated over one thousand UXOs in recent years,” said McKinnon. “Most of these were found on the surface, but many remain subsurface. Not all UXOs are inherently dangerous but they can be if handled or disturbed. So, it’s important personnel report UXO sightings to eliminate possible hazards and potentially save lives by doing so.”
Although many UXOs prove to be inactive, some can become more sensitive over time and could be triggered by just minimal agitation. With this in mind, members of the safety office encourage personnel to stay on paths, avoid touching any unusual objects, and heed any warning signs in the area.
“With time, some UXOs can become more sensitive and detonation could possibly occur with the slightest touch, resulting in severe injury or death,” said David Ovesen, 30th SW weapons safety manager. “Please continue to stay on established roads and trails, do not touch any suspicious items, if you did not drop it, don’t pick it up and remember – UXOs can be found anywhere.”
For individuals who find themselves working in known UXO areas, some additional safety procedures are required.
“Personnel who may have duties in the UXO areas, to include emergency responders, must have completed the UXO familiarity training given by base EOD,” said McKinnon. “Any planned work activity aside from emergency response must be coordinated through the wing weapons safety office. Any recreation in the Purisima Point UXO area must be contained to traveled roads or on established paths and no digging is permitted. Follow UXO safety guidelines and report all potential UXOs.”
Vandenberg patrons are cautioned to be especially vigilant now, as the recent wildfires have made areas of base that were once inaccessible to foot traffic now accessible.
“The fires cleared thousands of acres of land, that was previously dense brush and could not be navigated within known UXO areas,” said Ovesen. “Now many areas that are potentially dangerous when it comes to UXOs are physically accessible.”
Once an individual reports a UXO sighting, Vandenberg’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit is notified and determines if the object is active or inactive. If the explosive component is active, it will then undergo a controlled detonation, if inactive it is removed from the area.
“No one should ever leave a UXO unreported,” said Senior Airman Ryan Logan, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal journeyman. “A UXO that you see and don’t report could be a hazard to someone else. We follow the ‘3Rs’. Recognize: be vigilant both in and outside of UXO areas and recognize any UXOs that you may encounter. Retreat: we want you to mark the location if possible, just don’t get too close to the UXO. If you don’t have a phone to take a photo with GPS coordinates, mark the area with something distinguishable, like a bright bandanna wrapped around a bush. After you mark it, go back on the same path you came in on. Report: call the Command Post at 805-606-9961, or the Law Enforcement desk at 805-606-6911.”