Workload Grows for Army Emergency Response Unit

By Fein, Geoff S. | National Defense, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Workload Grows for Army Emergency Response Unit


Fein, Geoff S., National Defense


For more than 55 years, the Technical Escort Unit has been the Army's mainstay in remediation and chemical materials removal. It has a wide array of responsibilities in support of other Army organizations, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, during cleanup of military sites. It also helps in the removal, storage and destruction of non-stockpile chemical weapons. Most recently, it has been accompanying the Iraq Survey Group in its hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

Since 1971, the TEU has been removing chemical weapons and munitions in Japan and Germany, and storing and destroying them on Johnston Atoll, in the Marshall Islands.

Lt. Col. Franz Amann, TEU commander, said the unit is always in search of the latest technology, and often purchases commercial off-the-shelf equipment. The inter-agency Technical Support Working Group helps to fund research and development efforts.

Among the TEU's needs are lightweight, improved detection devices that cut down on the number of false positives, said Amann.

The TEU employs sophisticated systems, such as the Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS), a non-intrusive chemical assay that can identify the contents of munitions and storage containers. It works by shooting a beam of neutrons. The neutrons bounce into the elements of the material inside the munitions and produce gamma rays. Each dement has a particular gamma ray signature.

"In Operation Iraqi Freedom, we came across things that the regular Army couldn't handle," said Col. Timothy Madere, commander of Guardian Brigade, which now is the TEU's parent organization. "Conventional forces--their job is to identify contamination and avoid it. TEU--their job is to mitigate hazards."

The TEU used PINS to detect whether a cache of 120mm mortar shells, discovered by Danish troops in Iraq, contained mustard gas. The Danes found the 136 shells in early January, buried just north of Basra.

"Our team did go to Basra. [They] assessed the munitions. They were not what the Danes thought they were," said Amann.

Danish troops said the shells tested positive for blister agent, according to Amann. They also thought the munitions were at least 10 years old.

"They were not using very sophisticated equipment," said Amann. "The tests we use are much more sensitive. We are comfortable with our test results."

The shells in Basra tested negative for any chemical agent.

Data collected from the tests on the mortar shells was sent to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, a Department of Energy facility in Idaho Falls. Many of the researchers who developed PINS continue to work at the site. They reviewed the information, photographs and X-rays supplied by the TEU.

The information was then passed onto the Materiel Assessment Review Board, located at the Edgewood Area at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The board is made up of experts in explosive ordnance and nuclear physicists. Depending on the nature of the threat, the board can convene in person or by conference call.

If the information reveals a threat, the board can complete its analysis and report back to the TEU within a few hours.

TEU teams were on hand in Iraq to assist the ISG. There were six teams in Iraq, designed for specific operations, said Amann. Each team stayed for six months before rotating out.

"Some members have been to Iraq a few times," he said. …

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