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Story by Tech. Sgt. Mark Olsen, NJDMAVA/PA

On March 15 a munitions depot exploded in Gerdec, which is about six miles north of Tirana, the capital of Albania.

The explosion killed 26 people, injured more than 400 people, destroyed approximately 4,000 homes and displaced at least 600 citizens from their homes. The Albanian government has compared this disaster to “Katrina” in scope for their country. The blast, which was equivalent to 1.5 kilotons and registered 3.6 on the Richter

Master Sgt. Richard Bouffard
Chief Master Sgt. Richard Bouffard surveys the damage from the weapons depot explosion in Gerdec. Photo by Capt. Ray Sackmann, JFHQ-NJ (Air)

Scale, resulted in unexploded ordnance being dispersed three miles away from the blast site. It was estimated that more than one million pounds of explosives were stored on the site.

Eight days later United States European Command (EUCOM) sent a Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team (HAST) to Albania at the request of the U.S. Embassy. The team was comprised of explosive ordnance disposal, civil engineering, mortuary affairs, hazardous materials and environmental cleanup experts.

On April 3, EUCOM requested that the New Jersey National Guard send an assessment team. The team, headed by Col. Ronald Alfors, 108th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) Operations; Lt. Col. Paul Novello, 108th ARW Civil Engineering Squadron and Command Sgt. Maj. William Kryscnski, Homeland Security Center of Excellence (HSCOE) recommended that European Command request NJNG Civil Emergency Management experts to support the effort.

“This was the first time European Command utilized the SPP (State Partnership Program) for a HAST mission,” stated Lt. Col. Jeanne Wessel, SPP Coordinator. “It was requested because of their knowledge of the country, its diplomatic system and military structure.”

From April 9 to May 2, Lt. Col. Wessel, Capt. Ray Sackmann, Homeland Security Plans Officer/Anti-Terrorism Officer, Joint Forces Headquarters - New Jersey (Air) and Chief Master Sgt. Richard Bouffard, Chief, Emergency Operations – HSCOE, served on the team as the Civil Emergency Management experts.

During their stay, the New Jersey team advised and assisted the Albanian Ministry of Interior-Civil Emergencies Directorate on their roles and responsibilities of acquiring and reporting damage assessment information from all other ministry sectors. They also gave recommendations on the international donor coordination processes and procedures with the Council of Ministers - Department of Strategy and Donor Coordination. The team helped the on-site commander with security issues and civilian/military response procedures. Finally, the New Jersey Guardsmen helped coordinate between the U.S. Embassy, the Albanian Ministry of Defense, and the NJNG responds to Albanian disaster Story by Tech. Sgt. Mark Olsen, NJDMAVA/PA U.S. site remediation contractor, in the areas of security zones and the placement of the military and civilian command posts.

Kids Day at Picatinny

Picatinny Arsenal held their annual “America’s Day for Kids” picnic on August 1, but this year there were some very special guests - two bus loads of New Jersey National Guard family members celebrated as well. Children swarmed to the pool for a swim and others congregated at the trailers full of games and prizes. Photo courtesy Picatinny Public Affairs.


Currently, the Albanian Government and the U.S. Embassy are formulating a plan for the near-to-long term phases of the cleanup operation.


Table of Contents
Volume 34 Number 2 Staff / Information
(c) 2008 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs