ANDERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Guam – When an explosive ordnance disposal technician is asked when the last time he responded to an unexploded ordnance and says, “Oh, around 9:45 this morning,” it brings to reality the dangers of the island as a result of its history.
Guam was a strategic stronghold during World War II. It was captured by the Japanese in 1941 shortly after their attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, triggered American involvement in the war. In order to regain it as a U.S. possession, the island sustained heavy bombardment for days from American aircraft and Navy vessels in July 1944 before ground forces moved in with more artillery.
“At one point, there was a Marine unit that fired more than 1,000 rounds within two-and-a-half hours and then sent 2,280 75 mm and 105 mm shells later the same day,” said Jeff Meyer, 36th Wing historian. “With all these construction projects that are ongoing, we’re going to be constantly unearthing UXOs for a while – anything from rounds and shells to grenades that may have fallen off uniforms during the war.”
The historic battles on the island have been keeping the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal crew busy by causing them to respond for UXOs regularly. Since the beginning of 2013, EOD has been called out to dispose of 34 UXOs. Their expertise will continue to be required as storms loosen the ordnances from their resting spots throughout the years and as construction workers constantly dig them up from the ground.
“This is the base where it’s good to get all this exposure,” said Airman 1st Class Antonio Barbour, 36th CES EOD technician. “It provides a lot of real-world, hands-on opportunities versus training all the time.”
When someone finds a UXO, Barbour said the most important things to keep in mind are to not touch them and to call emergency responders, such as the fire department or security forces, immediately so EOD and the proper authorities can get to the scene as quickly as possible. Other items to keep in mind are to provide a 50-foot cordon around the area, don’t use cell phones until at least 50 feet away, and take note of the size, color or any distinguishing factors with the object.
“The most important thing is safety first, so don’t touch it,” said Barbour. “Any UXO can pose a threat to civilians and military members, regardless of whether it’s been there for decades or centuries. They still pose an explosion risk.”
He also said people shouldn’t focus on the island’s historical dangers negatively or be afraid to enjoy the outdoors, but just use situational awareness and know what to do in the event an ordnance is found. After all, Guam wouldn’t be the place it is today if all the scenarios that left the island covered in UXOs never occurred.
“They just celebrated the island’s liberation recently,” said Meyer. “If we didn’t drop all those bombs during WWII, who knows what it would be like today? This region was a key spot and the war could’ve possibly lasted longer if we didn’t take over the island when we did.”