Focus on Fostoria - May_14_03

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Fostoria Focus - Dated May 14, 2003

by Leonard Skonecki

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Like Great-Grandmother, Like Great-Grandson
It's nice when young people can share something with the older generation. Twenty-three year old Ryan Smith has something very unusual in common with his 90-year-old great grandmother, Helen Knisley.

They're both munitions inspectors for the American military.

Ryan is a 1998 Fostoria High School graduate who decided to make the military a career. His parents are Tim and Jamie Hatfield.

"I went into basic training in the Air Force 20 days after I graduated," he said. "I left Fostoria on June 23. I graduated June 3."

Ryan is a staff sergeant who recently completed a tour as a munitions inspector with the 39th Maintenance Squadron at Incirlik Air Force Base near Adana, Turkey.

"I inspect bomb components, bombs, bullets, grenades, claymores," he said. "Anything that explodes, I deal with."

Ryan went to Turkey in December 2001 and is home on leave after a 15-month tour of duty. Prior to that, he spent three years in Alaska.

Ryan entered the service because "I didn't want to go to college yet. I get to see the world and travel for free while I'm still young."

Why choose to inspect munitions?

"My choices were working finance sitting behind a desk or water treatment work," he said. "Then they said I get to drive big trucks and play with explosives. Heck yes, I'm going to pick that over sitting behind a desk. It just was no competition."

Helen was a munitions inspector for three years during World War II and at the Fostoria Screw Co., which manufactured 20 and 40 mm shells.

"You inspected them under a light," she said. "You rolled them around to see if there was a crack. That was what was dangerous. If one got through with a crack in it, it would explode in the gun. That was one of the main things we looked for."

"One of my granddaughters said, 'Grandma, I never knew you worked in a munitions factory.' I thought all the kids knew that," she said.

"Nope," said Ryan. "I had no clue."

There are different types of inspections. Often Ryan checks ordinance on a periodic inspection. Small arms ammunition, for instance, is inspected every five years. A technical order specifies what defects cause a munition to be discarded.

"Take dents, it tells us the limits of how deep they can be," Ryan said. "Basically, we look over all the rounds and make sure they're still good. If they're good, we put them back in the box until they're ready to be used up."

The depth of the dent is checked with a rim gauge the same size as the gun barrel.

"The gauge looks like a little barrel with holes in it. You drop the shell inside. If the dent doesn't keep it from going in, it's still good," he said.. "But if the dent doesn't keep it from going in, it's still good," he said."But if the dent has a hole in it and it's leaking powder, it's no good. If it's cracked we have to get rid of it. Or if the projectile's loose."

Anti-personnel mines, known as claymores, have a relatively high rejection rate.

"They come in a plastic case. Sometimes the cases deteriorate because they're too old. Or they're sticking to the canvas bags when you pull them out. Or sometimes the C4 (explosive material) is exposed and you have to reject them," he said.

Ryan works with some of the military's newest precision guided munitions such as GBU's or guided bomb units which are fired or dropped from aircraft.

He also inspects "dumb" bombs of the 500-, 1,000- or 2,000-pound variety. He is primarily concerned with the threads and fuse wells.

Helen knows this is serious work. A bad round could kill the soldier firing it.

"You had to think about that," she said. "I had people in the war. My brother was through the thickest of it. You had to think about the safety of your own people. It's just like today. If you've got some of your own people over there it makes a difference.

"The size and everything had to be checked to see if they were too big," she said. "If it wasn't just perfect it wouldn't fit right into the gun. I always felt kind of good that I was doing my part to help."

What most Americans know of Middle Easterners, they know from television. What Ryan knows, he knows first-hand.

"The Turks are very friendly people. They generally like Americans down where we're at," he said. "You can't get anything done unless you drink tea with them first. If you go into a shop and you don't have a cup of tea, it's an insult. It's their hospitality."

Does Ryan like tea?

"I didn't when I went there," he said, "but I do now."

Ryan has made Turkish friends including a talented fellow named Sabot who made him a large pillow case with the design of a mosque on it. Ryan gave it to Helen who hung it on her wall.

Ryan is planning on a 20-year career in the Air Force. He uses the opportunity to take college classes offered at Incirlik through the University of Maryland. He recently completed three computer courses and a history class. After he completes his leave, he'll join the 18th Munitions Squadron in Japan.

It's a singular coincidence that Ryan and Helen should have the same job, in time of war, 60 years apart. Ryan teases Helen.

"We like playing with explosives, don't we, Grandma?"

Helen laughed.

"I think it's wonderful, she says. "He's my great-grandson. Yes, I'm real proud of him."