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Lakota Nation Journal


Cal Thunder Hawk


A Lakota Lady with an "Explosive" Job

Story and Photos by Cal Thunder Hawk

Lakota Journal Staff Writer


PINE RIDGE — Dorothy Tobacco worked at the Badlands Bombing Range Project for several years, from 1996 to 1999, as one of the first Field Technicians with the project.

Little did she know that her daughter, Jessica Tobacco-Pettigrew, would one day become the first and only Native American female to be certified as an Unexploded Ordnance—also known as UXO—Technician I working in the same project.

Although Dorothy later left the BBRP, when an opportunity to receive training, certification and work as a UXO with the BBRP became available, she told her daughter about it.

One of eight children, Jessica was excited about the chance to work in a technical field filled with unique challenges. "I thought, ‘It's really a good opportunity,'" Jessica Tobacco-Pettigrew said.

According to Tobacco-Pettigrew, her husband, Michael, was working at the Oglala Sioux Tribe Energy Office at the time.

She and Michael were beginning a family that now includes a two-month-old daughter named Gloria. "The pay for the UXO position was good and it's a stable job. My first daughter, Briar, was an infant at the time and we had to make plans for our growing family," Tobacco-Pettigrew said.

She applied for the job and was one of 30 selected.

Was she surprised?

"Yes, I was surprised because most of the people who had been picked were guys with military backgrounds. Most were former police or Emergency Medical Technicians and were older than me," Tobacco-Pettigrew said.

Attrition, for a wide variety of reasons, narrowed the number to 21 participants. Eventually, 16 were left to undergo six-weeks of training at the University of Texas A&M Unexploded Ordnance School at Riverside, Texas. They each received a weekly paycheck and per diem payments while they were there. The training cost the BBRP about $10,000 per person in tuition and expenses. Each trainee was awarded a certificate as a UXO Technician I after successfully completing the course.

According to Tobacco-Pettigrew, immediately after they returned to the Pine Ridge area, contract negotiations between BBRP and USA Environmental, Inc.—a private contractor that specializes in Ordnance and Explosives Service—were set up for the newly-qualified UXO Technician I's to work at the Cuny Table site on the former Badlands Bombing Range.

The UXO personnel are used to locate and clear up unexploded ordnance and scrap metal from exploded devices on the former bombing range. It is a job that necessitates extensive travel time and remote activities.

The BBRP acted as a liaison in the contract agreement, called an Environmental Evaluation/Cost Analysis project, between the individual UXO Technician I's and USA Environmental, Inc.

Currently, this contract is concluding.

According to USA Environmental, Inc., the original contract for the BBR project was begun in 1998. It consists of three phases to locate, investigate and complete final disposition on more than 24,335 anomalies discovered in the former range that had been identified as of 1998. The former range is one of many Formerly Used Defense sites that USA Environmental, Inc., specializes in cleaning up.

During these investigations and attendant disposal operations not one explosive-related accident or incident occurred.

The Phase I and Phase II of the EE/CA operations utilized a mix of existing and innovative geophysical technologies, including analog and digital G858 magnetometers, and the most current airborne multi-sensor system under development by Oak Ridge National Lab as part of the DOD Environmental Security Technology Certification Program.

Phase III, begun in May with the UXO Technician I's, ends this winter.

According to Tobacco-Pettigrew, sometimes her job requires travelling to other areas in the US for periods that can last up to five weeks or more. She and her fellow UXO Technician I's are sent to other locations as a part of contracts negotiated between the BBRP and other Department of Defense subcontractors.

She likes working on contract work, although it takes her far from her family for weeks at time.

"With a contractor, we're supervised in the fieldwork," said Tobacco-Pettigrew. She continued, "So, we get to dig and we also get to do demolition operations. We get to go out and perform hands-on tasks. But, when we are not working under a contractor we go out and survey an area with Global Positioning Systems technology and do reconnaissance reports on the selected sectors."

According to Tobacco-Pettigrew, she enjoys working with GPS the most. She said, "It's good experience with computer technology. You get to work with the GPS satellite system. It can show you a map and pinpoint, within a few feet, objects that have been located and catalogued."

Tobacco-Pettigrew said, "Up around Cuny Table, we've been able to do demolition operations. We'll find old practice bombs, incendiary rounds and things like that. We dig them up then we have to destroy them. We do this safely because of our training, so it isn't dangerous to us."

Tobacco-Pettigrew continued, "As an UXO Technician I, you need to acquire a certain number of hours then you take a test for the next level, a Technician II, so we always look forward to the fieldwork with contractors."

The UXO Technician I's will soon have an opportunity to combine their training and experience into a business venture when their current contract with USA Environmental, Inc., expires December 31.

"Our company is Native American Environmental, Ltd. Right now we're planning on going into a mentor/protegee program with other companies. We have to meet with contractors and see what they have to offer us so that we can decide with company to go with. So, we're still negotiating meetings with the companies," Tobacco-Pettigrew said.

How does she feel about this opportunity to work with the BBRP?

"It's been wonderful and very interesting," Tobacco-Pettigrew said. She continued, "It's helped out a lot of our Native American families on our reservation. All of us have families and it's been a good, stable job. The experience and training that we've gotten had given us the edge we needed in order to go out and get hired anywhere in the US."

How long does she think it will take to clean up the BBR?

"When we first started, we were told 20 years. But there are a lot of areas out there that are very difficult to get into. So, I think it could take longer than that," Tobacco-Pettigrew said.

So, according to Tobacco-Pettigrew, her company of fellow UXO Technician I's may be able to make plans for the future—not only for their families, but for the eventual restoration of the former Badlands Bombing Range.

© 2008 Cal Thunder Hawk