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Unique Army organization looks to the future while supporting the past

by Karen Nikol, Army Chemical Materials Activity
July 27, 2021
CMA is responsible for the safe and secure storage operations at the Army’s two remaining chemical weapons stockpile sites located at Pueblo Chemical Depot, Colorado, and Blue Grass Chemical Activity at Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky. (Photo By Karen Nikol, Army Chemical Materials Activity)
CMA is responsible for the safe and secure storage operations at the Army’s two remaining chemical weapons stockpile sites located at Pueblo Chemical Depot, Colorado, and Blue Grass Chemical Activity at Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky. (Photo By Karen Nikol, Army Chemical Materials Activity)

Fifty years ago the United States transferred chemical munitions from Okinawa to Johnston Island, about 800 miles from Hawaii. A year later, the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC) Program Manager for Demilitarization of Chemical Materiel was created and began its first mission, Project Eagle, incinerating six million pounds of mustard agent and neutralizing eight million pounds of nerve agent GB at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Colorado.

Five decades and numerous name changes later, the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity (CMA) has a history that includes destroying 90% of the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile at Johnston Island and six locations across the nation, meeting all treaty requirements for non-stockpile chemical items, and supporting the nation’s commitment to an international treaty on chemical weapons.

“Our mission is unique by every standard, not only in AMC but in the entire U.S. Army,” said Kelso C. Horne III, CMA director.

CMA is the only Army organization that deals with the stockpile of chemical munitions on a daily basis, he said. As CMA director, Mr. Horne also serves as the Army Implementing Agent for executing the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Treaty.

CMA remains the Army expert in storing and managing the nation’s stockpile of chemical weapons and protects people and the environment near the stockpiles. CMA also assesses and destroys recovered chemical warfare materiel, a mission that will continue long after the chemical stockpiles are destroyed. The key to supporting this diverse mix of missions is people, who form what Mr. Horne calls “a culture of experts in a culture of expertise.”

“The Army does a lot of things, but CMA is the only organization that performs these particular functions for the Army,” he said. “By any measure, CMA has supported these missions successfully for the Army for decades”.

CMA has four mission areas. Chemical stockpile storage is performed by CMA personnel at Pueblo Chemical Depot, Colorado, and Blue Grass Chemical Activity at Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky. Public protection near the stockpiles falls under the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) in a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. CMA’s Center for Treaty Implementation and Compliance (CTIC) provides treaty support. Finally, assessment and destruction of recovered chemical warfare materiel is part of the Department of the Army’s Recovered Chemical Warfare Materiel (RCWM) Program, with an integrating office located within CMA.

Each mission area requires coordination inside and outside the Department of Defense (DOD), plus federal, state and local organizations, ambassadorial organizations and a host of public entities.

“CMA executes a level of engagement with the outside world that requires real experts and mature leaders to continue its success. We provide the right person in the room, no matter what room it is,” Mr. Horne said.
After completing stockpile destruction at seven sites by the 2012 treaty deadline, CMA reorganized, undertaking an ambitious transition process at each location to provide a path for personnel whether it was retirement, retraining or continued work in the government or elsewhere. Another change will take place when CMA personnel deliver the last munition for destruction to demilitarization facilities operated by Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA) at the two storage locations.

“We know there is an intent in the Army to retain and resource both the enduring functions of recovered chemical warfare materiel and treaty support, and keep them together, because they interact together,” Mr. Horne said. “This is something we think about all the time. As our functions are completed, we are going to take care of our employees because they have served the nation’s need. At the same time, we still need the right people at the right time doing the right work. There is value in keeping the right skills within the organization, and ensuring the dedicated government workforce that has supported this program has every tool available to them to ensure they land where their talents can continue to be utilized.”

In addition to the RCWM and treaty missions, CMA will continue to serve as National Inventory Control Point (NICP) for chemical material. The organization’s Combatant Command (COCOM) team will continue to provide subject matter experts in stockpile operations, treaty, emergency preparedness and RCWM to 20th CBRNE Command in real world issues and exercises worldwide.

The continuing mission at CMA’s Center for Treaty Implementation and Compliance (CTIC) will involve serving as principal advisor to the Army Implementing Agent on all aspects related to CWC, a key international agreement in the ongoing effort to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons. In addition to its current mission of verification support for stockpile storage and monitoring destruction operations, CTIC provides verification support at the Schedule 1 Single Small Scale Facility (SSSF) and Protective Purposes Production Facility (PPPF), which are part of Army Futures Command and Training and Doctrine Command respectively. CTIC will continue the implementation and compliance mission to support SSSF, PPPF, recovered chemical weapons, challenge inspection readiness and budgets/contracting.

The CMA Recovered Chemical Materiel Directorate (RCMD) maintains the technology and expertise to identify recovered items with unknown liquid fills and to destroy items identified as RCWM. This mission will continue with RCMD as the only organization in DOD with the equipment and expertise to execute it in its entirety – from the initial recovery, assessment and packaging of suspect chemical warfare materiel, through highly detailed project management, to final disposition of RCWM and disposal of waste.

“Whether it’s a large, planned environmental remediation effort or the accidental recovery of a single legacy munition at a former testing range, RCMD remains vigilant and ready,” said Donald Benton, director of Recovered Chemical Materiel.

The workhorse of RCMD’s chemical weapons destruction program is the transportable Explosive Destruction System, or EDS, which provides on-site neutralization of chemical warfare materiel in a safe and environmentally sound manner. The EDS uses cutting charges to access a munition and eliminate its explosive components before neutralizing its chemical fill. The system’s sealed, stainless-steel vessel contains all the blast, vapor and fragments from the process – an innovative method of destroying explosively configured chemical-filled munitions with a proven record of performance for state environmental regulators.

The success of the EDS Phase 1 led to development of a family of EDS units with mission-specific capabilities. EDS Phase 2 can contain larger materiel in both volume and explosive content. The RCMD Research, Development, Test and Evaluation team is developing an EDS Phase 3 to treat potential large chemical-filled bomb recoveries from burial sites on military installations where chemical weapons manufacture, testing, storage, demilitarization and disposal took place. The EDS P3 also will significantly increase throughput of smaller, more commonly recovered chemical munitions and materials over what is possible with currently fielded EDS units.

CMA will continue to support Army readiness by leveraging science and technology, continuing research and development, continuing to build partnerships, and “shaping our organization to meet the Army’s future needs.”

“Our quiet, professional organization is just getting started,” said Mr. Horne. “CMA will continue to cement a place in the Army to ensure we meet our mission now and in the future.”

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