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Chemical depot command: a primer. (From the Field).

Looking for a unique and rewarding leadership experience? Commanding a chemical depot or chemical storage facility may be just what you're looking for. Current force structure removed junior officers from the table of distribution and allowances (TDA) several years ago. Company-grade officers soon may find themselves in such an organization for the first time when they assume battalion-level command. My goal, therefore, is two-fold--offer an introduction to depot operations and discuss some challenges a commander might face, based on my command experiences at the Army's Umatilla Chemical Depot (UMCD) near Hermiston, Oregon.


UMCD is in northeastern Oregon. The 20,000-acre depot with its 1,001 concrete, steel-reinforced, earth-covered "igloos" plus other buildings opened in 1941 as a conventional ammunition and warehouse facility. During World War II, the Army transferred and temporarily stored chemical weapons at the depot. It received its current chemical weapons stockpile between 1962 and 1969. The stockpile includes 3,717 tons of chemical weapons and bulk containers with the warfare agents GB (sarin), VX, or HD (mustard). The depot has about 12 percent of the country's original stockpile, which includes more than 220,000 items--M55 rockets, bombs, projectiles, land mines, and mustard stored in bulk "ton" containers.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, the United States manufactured and ultimately stockpiled massive amounts of chemical warfare agents as a deterrent against attacks. But times changed; the stockpiles were never used, and in 1986, Congress legislated that the Defense Department destroy all chemical warfare agents. Further, the U.S. Senate ratified the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Treaty in 1997, which prohibits manufacturing, selling, or using chemical weapons. The treaty requires that all chemical weapons stockpiles be destroyed by 2007. It also permits regular unannounced inspections by teams from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)--headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands--to ensure treaty compliance. These inspections usually occur annually and include escorts from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Many normal depot operations are suspended when the team arrives and while it conducts a 100 percent inventory of the depot's stockpile, which could take up to 5 days . Ultimately, the OPCW will have offices on UMCD to observe and verify chemical weapons disposal operations.

The first congressional Base Realignment and Closure Commission "realigned" UMCD in 1988. Expecting the depot to ultimately close, the Army moved all its conventional ammunition out by 1994. Today the depot's primary mission focuses on safely and securely storing its chemical weapons while awaiting its ultimate demilitarization--disposal--in the depot's new Umatilla Chemical Demilitarization Facility (UMCDF). The depot's mission involves security operations, ammunition monitoring, and emergency response functions. In addition, its mission-essential task list includes supporting the chemical demilitarization program, CWC inspections, and routine installation support operations.

UMCD is currently authorized 178 civilian employees to accomplish its mission. That number will increase to more than 320 to support the demilitarization project. There are four directorates on the depot's TDA: chemical operations, security, risk management, and public works plus the headquarters staff. The depot also has its own fire department and is supported by an occupational health clinic staffed by an Army doctor and six Army medics assigned to Madigan Army Medical Center, Fort Lewis, Washington, with duty at Umatilla.

While the Oregon National Guard and American Red Cross use a few depot buildings and igloos, the UMCDF is the depot's major tenant. The facility will ultimately destroy all of the depot's chemical weapons and waste resulting from the disposal and storage operations. Employees from the U.S. Army Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization (PMCD); U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Washington Group, International (its prime contractor); and numerous subcontractors such as Southwest Research Institute work at the facility. After 4 years of construction, the focus at UMCDF is now on supporting plant systemization and ramping up personnel, equipment, and real property to support the $1.3 billion project. When fully operational, about 650 contract employees will operate and maintain the facility for daily, round-the-clock operations. It will probably take another 4 years to destroy the depot's chemical weapons stockpile.

Again, the depot's primary mission is safe and secure static storage of its chemical weapons. Moving the weapons is deliberately minimized to maximize workers' safety. A stringent monitoring program is key to ensuring safety.

Depot Operations

Monitoring and alarm systems are somewhat different than in the field. The depot's systems are commercially available and can detect agents at more precise and sensitive levels than in the field Army. The depot uses nine real-time analytical platforms (RTAPs), more simply described as mobile air-monitoring laboratories. These vehicular-mounted, mobile air-monitoring systems use a combination of commercially available Hewlett-Packard gas chromatographs and mini, automatic chemical agent alarms to detect chemical agent vapors in a real-time mode. For example, an RTAP can detect agent vapors down to 17 parts per trillion of GB.

Igloo headwall monitoring is a routine procedure. It is performed either daily or weekly, depending on the propensity for a weapon type or production lot to "leak." In addition, headwall monitoring using an RTAP is done before anyone opens and enters a storage igloo. Enhanced surveillance monitoring inspections (ESMIs) involve randomly sampling the air inside the M55 rocket's fiberglass shipping and firing tubes. About 1,200 ESMI samples are processed monthly and tested in the depot's laboratory. A positive reading indicates vapor leaks within the shipping and firing tube and is identified as a "leaker." Quarterly visual igloo inspections complement the program. This program helps ensure that leaks are identified long before they are visible as liquid and hazardous to the workforce, public, or environment.

Since 1984 when the depot initiated its current monitoring procedures, its crews have detected about 185 leakers. Overpacking is the standard procedure for handling most leaking weapons. Leaker containment for nerve agent-filled weapons is a somewhat regular operation involving power filtering a structure, followed by entry wearing full protective gear. The leaking weapon must be identified and then overpacked in a larger container. Finally, the overpacked weapon is moved to one of two storage igloos housing other overpacked munitions with the same chemical agent. These structures are monitored daily.

Similar to tactical mission-oriented protective posture levels, there are several protective levels for the chemical weapons workers. However, instead of battle-dress overgarments, agent workers use a full range of protective gear from rubber, toxicological-agent protective suits to Trelchem[TM] self-contained suits. Personnel also use the M40 mask and are issued nerve agent antidote kits.

The depot's operations center (OC) is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with at least two trained specialists to help ensure workers' safety and monitor operations. It functions as the depot's tactical operations center (TOC) and monitors all depot operations. The OC also serves as a critical communications node for notifying off-post jurisdictions of depot events and emergencies that may have community impacts and/or media attention. Umatilla is unique as it sits astride two counties and is five miles from the Columbia River, a major waterway, and Washington State. This requires a communications capability to not less than 10 county- and state-level emergency operations centers (EOCs).

UMCD's OC performs chemical hazard analysis, such as monitoring, inventory, and overpack before chemical weapons operations. This is done using real-time weather data from up to five depot meteorological towers and the Emergency Management Information System (EMIS), which employs a computer-based graphic hazard-plotting program called D2-Puff. This system plots agent hazards at three levels: 1 percent lethality for unprotected personnel, no deaths, and no effects. Furthermore, EMIS sends this information and the plots to the surrounding community EOCs and interfaces with their federal EMIS. Thus, information and hazard plots are shared almost instantaneously with community emergency-management officials. They use the data to track the depot's daily operations. During exercises and for depot emergencies, community officials use the depot recommendations to direct the public to either shelter in place or evacuate. The OC also activates depot sirens and has the emergency capability to activate community sirens.

Force protection requires constant vigilance. Government civilian employees perform security operations, which is a 24-hour task and includes access control to the depot and active patrols within the restricted chemical-limited area. However, since the events of 11 September, a National Guard infantry company has augmented this civilian force. Electronic surveillance is a major component for chemical weapons security. A specially trained and equipped reaction team augments the security contingent within the chemical weapons storage area. Security exercises are conducted frequently and often at night.

Public affairs plays a major role in depot operations. The depot makes every effort to bolster public trust in its operations and the future demilitarization process. Public interest in the depot is high, and contact with the media occurs daily. This is one area that can easily be overwhelming and an area in which the average chemical officer has the least amount of real experience. A new or inbound commander can expect to take one or two communications courses to prepare for the job. Regular public meetings--such as the governor's chemical demilitarization Citizens Advisory Commission (CAC), the communities' Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) governing board, and public awareness and environmental permit meetings--keep the commander and public affairs staff more than busy.

Emergency response operations--the Army's Chemical Accident/Incident Response and Assistance (CAIRA) program--bear many similarities to tactical decontamination and hazard response tasks. Training plays a major role at UMCD. There are frequent CAIRA exercises, monthly no-notice command post exercises for the EOC/staff crisis response team, and an annual large-scale evaluated exercise.

The depot also participates in an annual community-wide exercise supporting the CSEPP. These externally evaluated events are similar to a tactical external evaluation and include using simulated weapons, moulage kits, helicopter medical evacuation, and a commander's press conference at the community joint-information center using real and mock reporters. Evaluators include representatives from the Department of the Army, FEMA, contractors, and augmentees from other chemical depots or activities. The exercise closes with a comprehensive depot and community after-action review.

State and county CSEPP officials are key to the depot's success. There must be interface and communication with these groups. The officials report to their elected officials and, in many cases, have been with the local CSEPP for several years and are an important information source.


As UMCD's commander, this disposal project required much coordination and obtaining at least a working knowledge of the demilitarization process. The U.S. Army Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization (PMCD), Edgewood Area, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is responsible for the demilitarization program, which is administered locally by an on-site PMCD project manager and support staff. The Corps of Engineers has also been a significant presence with overall UMCDF contract management responsibilities. Add contractor personnel to the equation and the picture gets more complex. As UMCD's commander, I have had a role in the project's Fee Advisory Board, which determines contractual success and awards the prime contractor as part of the costplus contract. In addition UMCD's commander is co-signatory on the waste permits that state environmental regulators issue. I found the PMCD site manager a key player and team member. Ultimately, the depot's success is intertwined with the demilitarization project.

With different reporting commands--SBCCOM for the depot; PMCD for the UMCDF; Corps of Engineers in Huntsville, Alabama,--the relationship demands cooperation and teamwork. I found meeting regularly with site government and contract managers facilitated communications and working relationships.

Environmental permits are mandatory for disposal operations to start. State regulators, in our case the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ), have authority from the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee disposal operations and hazardous-waste-storage permits and ensure compliance with federal and state regulations. The ODEQ's local regulator is a key individual who requires coordination and expects to be kept informed. For the Umatilla weapons disposal project, the ODEQ also maintains a physical presence on the depot totally focused on demilitarization and chemical weapons storage.

Often, the relationship with the ODEQ has been difficult. For example, Oregon recently modified a statute and now regulates the depot's entire stockpile as "waste." This means the stockpile falls under their oversight and that of the Resources Conservation Recovery Act. The depot is now working with the ODEQ to finalize storage and monitoring changes to meet the new requirements, which will involve filtering igloos.

The depot workforce are mature and qualified experts in their fields, especially those working with chemical weapons. At UMCD, for example, many chemical operations workers have more than 20 years ammunition experience. As with the entire federal workforce, many are eligible to retire within the next few years--before disposal operations are complete. Wring and maintaining a qualified civilian workforce will continue to present challenges.

So, what does this all add up to for a depot commander? First, leadership as I know it and have practiced throughout my Army career still applies. Unions, a mature infrastructure, the absence of peers, and distance from the flagpole are new challenges. But, in the end, treating people fairly and with respect still works well for the organization.

I found typical chemical officer technical skills easily transferable to the depot command experience. My experience with a TOG gave me insight into the depot's OC. I also found many things in common with depot security operations and what I experienced in past assignments. Teamwork, cooperation, and communication are critical skills in dealing with the many disparate organizations on and off the depot, each with its own agenda.

The local communities have played, and will continue to play, an important role in the depot's life. Communities certainly can impact a commander's success. Proactive personal involvement, presence, and persistence with local communities and elected officials are essential. In general, the public here respects this leadership position and its responsibilities. I believe in such command positions as this one; the commander needs to be seen as supporting the community and as an Army representative.

Answering queries about depot issues is a given with the general public and elected officials--from local mayors, to state and U.S. congressmen and senators, to the governor. In small communities such as those surrounding UMCD, the public and elected officials look to the depot commander as a spokesman for the depot, for expertise, and for answers to their questions. They also look to the commander for reassurance that the depot is safe and prepared for an emergency. Again, their support for the depot and the demilitarization program are instrumental.


Commanding a chemical depot command is a challenge, but it has afforded me the opportunity to exercise leadership in a truly public environment. I gained a wealth of experiences, not the least of which has been leading thousands of miles from headquarters. Command at Umatilla has meant much learning in a very short time. This leadership role required trusting my instincts. While the communities do not get a vote on a depot commander's efficiency report, they are an important constituency with which the Army expects commanders to work.

This article gives some ideas of a chemical depot's operations and what a commander might experience. Future commanders will no doubt find this type command assignment deeply rewarding and, like company command, ending way too soon.

Photos courtesy of Mr. Scott Barton, Umatilla Chemical Depot the U.S.

Lieutenant Colonel Tom Woloszyn is currently Central Command (CENTCOM) chemical officer. At the time of this writing, he was commander of the Umatilla Chemical Depot in Hermistion, Oregon. He has served in leadership and staff positions in tactical units such as the 83d Chemical Battalion and 3d Infantry Division and the 82d Airborne Division, where he served as the division chemical officer prior to command. He has a master's in analytical chemistry from Pennsylvania State University.
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Author:Woloszyn, Tom
Publication:CML Army Chemical Review
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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