EOD clears the range for training, wildlife conservation

  • Published
  • 23rd Wing PA

AVON PARK AIR FORCE RANGE, Florida – When one thinks of pairings that go well together, peanut butter and jelly, or fireworks and the Fourth of July, may come to mind –a perhaps unexpected combination are Air Force bombing ranges and wildlife conservation and natural preservation lands.


Ranges like Avon Park Air Force Range provide just that. Essential, not only for the Air Force and DoD to offer effective, realistic and safe air and ground training opportunities, but also for environmental preservation.


Nestled in central Florida, with 106,000 acres belonging to Avon Park AFR, more than 80,000 of those acres are safety buffers, which are home to protected lands, water resources and wetlands.


“Conservation natural lands are probably one of the best examples of a compatible land use by a military installation,” said Charles MacLaughlin, range operations officer for Avon Park AFR. “Those safety buffers are arguably the most pristine, natural Florida habitats.”


To ensure the success of environmental, archaeological and training operations, as well as the recreational programs, a lot of work goes into maintaining the range for safe and sustainable operations in the long term.

“We calculate and we plan for the weapons kinematic envelope,” MacLaughlin said. “If it doesn't guide, if a fin breaks and it doesn't travel the direction predicted, we know within 99.99 percentile of where that weapon could possibly go. We do that for both public safety and for our planning and range cleanup purposes and to keep our own staff out of the weapons footprints.”


Being a geographically separated unit of Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Avon Park AFR employs the 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team to perform a range clearance twice a year.


“We're paving the way for all of the maintenance personnel, so they can safely go out and replace targets for training,” said Master Sgt. Eric Farley, Avon Park AFR safety officer. “We're down here clearing the range of all the unexploded munitions that are left over after training missions.”

Used by all four services, the range has been visited by several squadrons and unit-level deployments. As a critical training space, range clearances have resulted in over 2,000 tons of metal being processed – or demilitarized – over the last few years with a 500-pound verified inert bomb being found at the most recent clearance.

“Avon Park has a long history as a bombing range in the Air Force and the munitions that they used out here has changed over the years,” Farley said. “We have found some interesting munitions that haven’t been inventoried for years. Everything that has ever been brought on a bombing range that didn't go off, ends up coming back to the surface and we have to take care of it somewhere down the road.”


Presently, Moody AFB and other U.S. service branches regularly use the range for training. Due to its remote location, capabilities, and limited infrastructure, it’s a popular DoD asset for Agile Combat Employment concept training and implementation.


“We have, essentially, an austere airfield with very little capability and services,” MacLaughlin said. “A unit deploying here has to bring everything they need including security and air traffic controllers. There are no instrument approaches, there are no navigational aids. This is literally an 8,000 by 150-foot runway inside of restricted airspace, co-located with the range.”

As time goes by, the ordnance used in training missions gets recycled after being rendered inert. Once complete, the range is renewed, and targets are reset and adjusted based on various unit’s feedback and real-world needs.


“It is important from a safety standpoint that we don't have a lot of rusted metal and potentially unexploded ordnance in the area where we also conduct ground training,” MacLaughlin explained. “It’s important to refresh and revitalize the target area, so that it looks similar to some of the areas of responsibility that our forces are sent to overseas.”


As conflict around the world shifts Avon Park AFR continues to provide a realistic environment within the constraints of peacetime, enabling cutting-edge training for the warfighters need while preserving the environment.