Monday, July 11, 2011

Forgotten Dates in Military History: The Doha Dash, 11 JUL 1991

Clif's Notes Version; malfunctioning vehicle heater cooks off ammunition in an M992 ammunition carrier that then sets off a series of massive secondary explosions that effectively destroy a hell of a lot of 11ACR's AFVs - a total of 102 vehicles including 4 M1A1's. The toll was orders of magnitude higher than combat losses in the just-concluded Second Gulf War.
Read about it here.

My son once asked my why soldiers marched around and did everything together like robots. I explained that in the old days soldiers fought that way. That the rule of thumb is that the closest weapon is the most dangerous, and that the man beside you - even though he was on "your side" - was closer than the closest enemy. So the soldiers learned to handle their weapons like that to keep from shooting each other.He didn't get it.(h/t to John Cole at Balloon Juice, one of the veterans of the Dash)

29 comments:

  1. Quite a story. Don't recall it at all, or maybe had read about it once in the Herald Tribune. At the time, we'd switched back to the Soviet Union, although we had provided strategic Humint collection support of DS/DS.

    For some reason this earlier accident came to mind . . .

    The USS Nimitz, a Marine Corps EA6B, on May 26, 1981, and the rest is history. Fourteen dead and dozens of living survivors who have never been the same.

    It's quite a contrast to the Doha Dash, particularly the aftermath . . .

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,922544,00.html

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  2. I still remember the watching the video of the famous Forrestal incident during Vietnam. Everyone in the Navy was required to watch it during boot camp because during that accident almost all the experienced firefighters and damage control teams were killed.

    On my last cruise in the Navy we lost one F/A-18 attempting to land - fortunately the pilot ejected safely and the aircraft went off the deck and into the ocean.

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  3. Chief - Who made that malfunctioning heater, couldn't find anything on it online?

    Andy - The Oriskany and Enterprise also got torched during the same period. Not as bad as the Forrestal, but still horrendous and the Enterprise was caused by the same Zuni rocket cookoff as the Forrestal. You would think China Lake would have demanded some changes.

    I went on a cruise sometime after those fires and I remember going through shipboard firefighting course in San Diego. The sailors who ran the course delighted in making us jarheads crawl thru the smoke, and putting us on the nozzle in the propane-fueled shipboard simulator fire. But even so I have a lot of respect for those Damage Control and HullTech ratings and their aviation equivalents. Takes bigger cojones than mine to be the lead man into a burning compartment on ship. Question - Does the US Navy still build ships with Aluminum superstructures?

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  4. mike: Here's the relevant graf from the linked website: "At approximately 10:20 A.M, a defective heater in an M992 ammunition carrier loaded with 155mm artillery shells caught on fire. Troops unsuccessfully tried to extinguish the fire before being ordered to evacuate the North Compound. This evacuation was still under way when the burning M992 exploded at 11:00 AM, scattering artillery submunitions (bomblets) over nearby combat-loaded vehicles and ammunition stocks. This set off an hours-long series of explosions and fires that devastated the vehicles and equipment in the North Compound and scattered unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and debris over much of the remainder of the camp"

    Not sure where this information came from, but it's an EOD website, so I'm guessing there was an investigation and the guys in the motor hole told this story.

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  5. Yes Chief, I read the link, but I could not find any reference online as to who the prime contractor was on the M992 and who had made the heater.

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    1. Stewart Warner combat systems made the heater, I know because I was the ammo team chief on How-28 the FAASV /M992 track

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  6. I was present in Kuwait for the Doha dash. Actually, it was not a heater in the M992 CATV that malfunctioned - it was an APU generator on the vehicle that caught fire. The vehicle is equipped with a halon fire extinguisher system but it was turned off at the time (due to maintenance being performed). All of the 8 of the M109 howitzers and 8 M992 CATV's were fully combat loaded with 155mm projectiles so, when it went - it really went! The local Kuwaitis were running saying Sadaam, Sadaam!!! They thought the Iraqi's were launching an attack on Camp Doha.

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    1. It sure as hell was the Heater ! I saw it with my own eyes ,and attempted to put it out with only the bottle on the door

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    2. I was with the 3rd ACR during Desert Shield and Storm. My unit was a Howitzer Battery from 3/3 ACR. An ammo carrier like the one at DOHA caught fire because the exhaust from the exhaust system caused the canvas on the vehicle to catch fire. This ammo carrier like the one at DOHA blew up along with all of its munitions. It was a pretty big explosion. The driver of the vehicle used good sense and drove the vehicle away from the battery and made a run for it before it exploded. What I find interesting is why would you use a vehicle heater during the middle of summer? I know in Kuwait; the summer temperatures are above 120 degrees. That said why would anyone care about the maintenance of their heating system when it is summer. Usually, in the Army, soldiers are prone to be reactive instead of proactive with their vehicles. That said, I find it hard to believe that this accident occurred as a result of a defective heater. Last, only an insane leader would store live ammunition with his or her vehicles in a garrison environment. In this case the leaders of 11th ACR from the Regimental commander down to the Troop Commander from 2/11 ACR should have been court-martialed, given the loss of life and damage to military equipment that went into the millions.

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  7. I was present that day also. It WAS a heater in a M992 FAASV that caught fire. One of the crewman of that FAASV is a personal friend of mine. I remember watching the thing burn and hearing the powder bags and .50 cal ammo cooking off right before the fire truck hauled ass.

    We started running for our lives at that point.

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  8. I was there and one of the guys to go in and sweep up the depleted uranium with a broom and no protection... Thank you Col. A.J Bacevich, I hope you had a very short career...

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    1. how can we prove we was on the clean up crew? i remember picking up everything that wasnt inside a painted circle. as one piece came up missing and they had a fit until the guy that picked it up removed it from the back of the truck. he put it back in the circle saying sorry he was gonna mail it home as a reminder of what happened.

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    2. I too was there, 3rd Squadron, we were patrolling the border at the time of the fire/explosion(s) and were coming in over the mountain range on what I believe was called the six-ring-highway or similar. We could see the plume, ordinance flying, etc... we were held at one of the entrances where we picked up a couple people we had left behind, then headed back to the range/border area.

      A little later I also helped clean up and eventually there were marked off locations; however I also heard stories of people who started the cleanup earlier, from 2nd Squadron I think, long before anyone knew better. Even cleaning outside the cordoned off area(s), without any special protection still exposed us to the dust. I remember vividly seeing an A1 with the front practically melted like it was a plastic toy. This could be witnessed easily from outside the "zone", you were allowed pretty close and I am sure there was debris containing depleted uranium in the vicinity.

      I also blew black chunks from my nostrils several times a day the first couple weeks we were at the base from all the oil well smoke. You don't hear much about that or aftereffect these days. I personally was more concerned about permanent issues from petroleum tar in the lungs or sinuses than some light radiation from depleted uranium. I have serious nasal allergies as an adult that require steroid shots; I have no evidence of relation to exposure and not sure I could truly blame anyone if it was related. We as humans have done many things over the years before we knew the ramifications. We learn from our mistakes, or at least we should.

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  10. Sorry, I had to tone it down...

    The Heater AND other factors are to blame for this disaster.

    This type of heater was a known problem. The driver’s belt would catch the ON/OFF switch and fill the fuel bowl with diesel. If the fuel was not burned off by running the heater, it could spill out and catch fire. It did not happen very often, but when it did, the normal thing to do is:
    Shut off the power (heat source)and put out the fuel fire with CO2 hand held fire extinguishers.
    When this failed, close the doors and pull the Halon Fire suppression system. That would kill anything...EXCEPT for the leadership of AJ Basevitch, all would have been ok....

    AJ was a "Zero Defects" leader that did not want to hear the truth. He would fire or write poor evaluations on Officers that told him the truth that he didn't want to hear. He would send units out to Udari Range to play gunnery, without first having the area cleared of bomblets. No big deal for a Tank, but light skinned Howitzers...a big deal. He made himself unapproachable and expected his orders to be followed like he was God. Orders like keeping a basic war load in the motor pool. Yeah, unsafe as all get out, but hey, he was a Armor Officer, he didn't know jack about Arty. All he knew was that he wanted no vehicles "Non Mission Capable" and the Officers under him understood that they would NOT have any vehicle on the deadline report.

    Well, in the heat of Kuwait, the Helon Bottles would occasionally discharge. This made the vehicle "Non Mission Capable" until new Helon Bottles could be put in. Given that AJ was one that didn't want to hear WHY a vehicle was NMC, the only thing to do was SHUT OFF the fire suppression system. Of course, unloading the Ammo was out of the Question as again, who wanted to explain to AJ why a vehicle that is supposed to be ready for war, cannot roll in 15 minutes.

    So there you have it, Heater catches fire, power is left on, flame goes out when the hand held us used, power restarts the fire, Helon Gas is shut off and the crew shits a brick. I would like have had the ammo thrown out of the vehicle or a driver run the vehicle threw the wall and away from everyone, but this did not happen. By the time the fire department makes it there, it starts to really burn and then the powder canisters cooked off cause the vehicle to burn really hot and the fire crew abandoned the fire just in time.

    Above all of this, days after the fire, two EOD Sergeants take a 19 year old PFC Josua Flemming with them as they decide to blow all that damaged ammo in a ditch away from where if burned. Stupid as hell. In the process, the two EOD fools blow themselves up and Flemming as well. I say fools because anyone that knows Ammo, knows that you do no move ammo that has be burned our shocked. You blow it up in place, but again, they were under pressure by AJ to get the motor pool cleaned up quickly, so...where is the fault for Flemmings death?

    Adding insult to injury, AJ has people cleaning up the motor pool with no protective masks or gloves. 4000lbs of Depleted Uranium and other toxic chemicals were in the motor pool, but what do we do? We sweep up the dirt and dust into trash cans. No idea what we are doing to our health.

    Well AJ got to retire a Full Bird (no General's Star for him) with all the benefits and now writes about the poor leadership in the Military. Well, AJ if you read this, I was in Poliwoda Iraq when your son AJ Junior was killed by an IED. He was well liked and respected by his fellow officers and the troops as well. He will be missed by his men. You...not so much, but if you go onto Charlie Rose, I will still watch to see what you have to say, but I won’t buy any of your books.

    I am not bitter, about the fire, I am bitter that Flemming got killed and a fine unit that had great leaders like Fredrick M. Franks, Thomas E. White and John Abrams, was turned to crap because of poor leadership.

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    1. agreed, 100%... served under abrahms, crow, and white

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    2. Completely concur. Bacevich was a prima donna of the first order. The day I saw our Support Platoon Leader stacking pallets of ammo at the end of my track line in the 140 degree heat, I asked him what idiot told him to store unstable ammo so close to a track line - his response was "The RCO - I just do what I'm told...". After raising my concerns to the Regimental XO, I was told in no uncertain terms that NO ONE questions the Regimental Commander and was sent on my way. Bacevich was an egotist who demanded blind loyalty but inspired nothing but resentment. The hundreds - if not thousands - of Troopers who were at Doha who now have physical ailments as a result of their over exposure to DU and other toxins during the "hush-hush" clean up of Blackhorse Base have Bacevich to thank for their degenerating quality of life.

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    3. Another side note. I think the vehicle they were using for EOD was a HMMWV that had a water basin with "EOD Trainers" or similar joke spray painted on it. I saw it several times till after that accident, then it disappeared. It was never confirmed to us that the accident involved the operators of that truck, but everyone suspected it and mentioned the connection to the joke.

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  11. We have started a website with a forum for veterans of the Doha Dash. http://dohadash.org

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  12. Number 1. It was the heater. 2. This occurred during the BG's morning brief as the call over the handheld called out small arms detonations by the Chief of Staff if I am not mistaken as the BG sent him to the location of the fire. 3. AJ did retire as a Colonel and Stephen Speaks a personal friend retired as a LTG. Years after the event I spoke to Stephen about this as I was sure his career was over and he said that AJ had taken the heat on this disaster even though Stephen was the commander of the group that had the accident. So in this, I must tip my hat to AJ. I had a telecom site about 30 to 40 yards away from where the fire (later explosions) started and when things started blowing we moved into the maintenance pits under our vehicles but had to run fot it across the huge paved area as the explosions were getting closer. We had a couple of guys that were on night shift and when the sh*t hit the fan, they were fortunate to get out with shower shoes and shoes as the shrapnel shredded the tent they were sleeping in. After being housed in the South Park, the 1SG or CSM that always stood in the door of the dining facility and I got into a huge argument as the only thing he cared about was my soldiers not being in proper uniform. So the 11th ACR had some real fine SR NCOs to go along with AJ (pun intended).

    I ran into Franks when we were in Afghanistan at the same tme and we had a short discussion about the incident and yes, he is a great guy.

    There was also two helicopters that were at the NW corner of North Park that were the first priority to get cleared and the area around them was cleared so they could be moved the first week.

    To all that was there during the Doha Incident, it was a very bad day for all of us especially coming off a week after the 4th of July and it was very depressing to have the lose of three lives a week after the explosion and not losing a single life from the incident itself. To be exposed to the DU and to this day I still have required physical checkups and documentation (questionaires) to complete as I am sure a lot of you do also.

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  13. I was in the 3/11th ACR and on that day we were out on Gibbs Range, with the bomblets. I was in Mauler Company 2nd Platoon. We missed the blast but were in awe at the site of the destruction when we returned to Doha. I do recall a Humvee that was setting burned out on the ground on the south compound on the corner before the dirt road crossing to the northern compound. The humvee had burned up as a result of burning shrapnel flying around.

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  14. Wow those pictures and the story really brought it back....we were about 500 yards across the ditch and in the base supply getting uniforms issued to the unit. When those started cooking off we thought we were under attack because no one outside of the immediate area was informed. I got to say that AJ made me sick...I had to go into the motorpool area with an M88 and tow a lot of those vehicles out of there. All the while telling us there was nothing to worry about. The big push was to get the whole mess cleaned up before Gen Schwarzkopf was coming to Doha the following week and everything had to look like nothing happened. Those explosions were unreal, we had a tank engine deck blown from the motorpool about 3/4 of mile and stuck in the ground in front of our unit. Scary as hell.....

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  15. I was there as well I was a Scout with The 2/11th we were on our bradly's and when we saw the Arty gus running Well common sense right. That was some crazy stuff.

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    1. I was a Scout with 2/11 also, and sure enough was in my Bradley as well. I was facing away from the burning FASV, into my track when I heard a huge commotion behind me. I turned around thinking "Fight!!" and instead it was a bunch of folks running away. I joined them too!

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  16. I was a scout with 1/11 ACR. On the morning of 11 July we received order to return Camp Doha to provide security from the training and leater was sent in to motor pool with our assign M3 Bradley to recover member who is trapped in the mortor pool.

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  17. AFTER DESERT STORM I WAS SENT TO FULDA CS 11TH ACR. THEY WERE ALL WALKING AROUND WITH THEIR "COMBAT" PATCHES ON THEIR RIGHT SHOULDER LIKE THEY REALLY DID SOMETHING. WELL, I GUESS THEY DID. IF THE ARMY EVER NEEDS TO DESTROY A MOTORPOOL CALL THE "DOHA DASHERS"

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  18. My friend said her dad was stationed there and witnessed the explosion. She also said that he is lucky to even still have his leg as it is said that he had a piece of shrapnel go through his lower thigh just above the knee.

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  19. I was with the 3rd ACR during Desert Shield and Storm. My unit was a Howitzer Battery from 3/3 ACR. An ammo carrier like the one at DOHA caught fire because the exhaust from the exhaust system caused the canvas on the vehicle to catch fire. This ammo carrier like the one at DOHA blew up along with all of its munitions. It was a pretty big explosion. The driver of the vehicle used good sense and drove the vehicle away from the battery and made a run for it before it exploded. What I find interesting is why would you use a vehicle heater during the middle of summer? I know in Kuwait; the summer temperatures are above 120 degrees. That said why would anyone care about the maintenance of their heating system when it is summer. Usually, in the Army, soldiers are prone to be reactive instead of proactive with their vehicles. That said, I find it hard to believe that this accident occurred as a result of a defective heater. Last, only an insane leader would store live ammunition with his or her vehicles in a garrison environment. In this case the leaders of 11th ACR from the Regimental commander down to the Troop Commander from 2/11 ACR should have been court-martialed, given the loss of life and damage to military equipment that went into the millions.

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  20. I think that 2/11 ACR incident as DOHA was a big cover up. Yes, the ammo went up along with its HHT and HWB equipment with four tanks. I think this story comes with lies from this unit leadership to protect themselves from liability. First of all, why would you being used a heater when it is the middle of summer? Second, Armor officers are college-educated and have gone to Armor school. How could someone be so ignorant to store ammo in a motor pool with its vehicles? Then later after the blast claimed ignorance on their troops being exposed to a DU hazard by using responses, of "I do not recall" or my Chemo was out of town, so I was not informed. The RCO took the blame, and everyone else got a pass. I know that two highest ranking officers under their squadron commander from 2/11 ACR got a pass and enjoyed productive careers instead of facing a letter of reprimand for failing to provide a safe environment for their Troopers. I guess officers have a way of protecting their own to which I find very disturbing since many are still dying today as a result of their exposure to DU contamination.

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