There’s no shame in losing something, but the U.S. Air Force should be ashamed of waiting 10 days to tell the public about losing a can of grenade rounds in northwest North Dakota.
The Air Force said grenade rounds were lost May 1 and Mountrail County Sheriff Ken Halvorson said the Air Force informed his office on May 4. The public wasn’t alerted until May 11. The explosives were lost on 76th Avenue Northwest, somewhere between 33rd Street Northwest and Highway 23, according to the sheriff. The ammunition is a belt of grenade rounds, contained in a green metal ammo container that is intended for use with an MK19 machine gun grenade launcher. The ammunition won’t work in any other launching device. The green metal container with the ammunition weighs 42 pounds and is 18.5 inches by 6 inches by 10 inches.
The Air Force said in a release that the box fell out of a Humvee while traveling on rough gravel roads in the Parshall area. It didn’t say why the personnel had the grenade rounds, but it did announce a $5,000 reward.
Lt. Col. Jamie Humphries, a spokesman for the Minot Air Force Base, said the ammunition is considered safe as long as the container is intact, however, damage to the container or its contents could result in an explosion or injury.
That’s why it seems unusual that the Air Force waited so long to notify the public. The Tribune Editorial Board thinks the Air Force should have put out an alert so anyone finding the container might have known of the potential danger and contacted authorities. Maybe the Air Force was concerned about a lot of people going to the area in search of the container so they could get the reward. That sounds unlikely.
Hopefully, the Air Force didn’t wait because they wanted to avoid the embarrassment of announcing they had lost the ammunition. There are times you have to swallow your pride in the interest of public safety.
The Air Force did have more than 100 airmen walk the 6-mile route several times on Friday in search of the explosives. They came up empty.
In comparison to past incidents at or near the Minot Air Force Base, this one wasn’t as serious.
On Aug. 29, 2007, six cruise missiles, each loaded with a variable yield nuclear warhead, were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52H heavy bomber at Minot and transported to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The nuclear warheads in the missiles were supposed to have been removed before the missiles were taken from their storage bunker. The missiles remained mounted to the aircraft at both Minot and Barksdale for 36 hours and weren’t reported missing. The warheads weren’t protected by mandatory security precautions for nuclear weapons.
In January 2017, an engine fell from a B-52 bomber while the plane was flying over North Dakota during a training flight near the Minot Air Force Base. Fortunately, the engine broke up and the debris landed in an unpopulated area. No one was hurt.
While these accidents may temporarily hurt the image of the Air Force, they are accidents. The Air Force needs to be transparent when an accident occurs and report it to the public. If the Air Force had reported the missing grenade rounds at the beginning the public would have been aware of the possible danger. Everyone would have been safer.
Anyone with information about the missing ammunition can should call 911 or the Minot Munitions Reporting Hotline at 701-723-7909.