Soldiers training at Fort McCoy in 2022 have amenities and access to resources that their predecessors couldn’t have imagined possible.

They also have restrictions and responsibilities that those who came before them never had to worry about. Today, natural and cultural resource conservation is integrated into the training mission in many ways.

One of these conservation efforts is clear to anyone who has spent time on installation lands for more than 15 years but would be completely invisible to anyone else. Brass shell casings and other objects remaining after ammunition and missiles are used, collectively referred to as ammunition residue, used to be left behind after training exercises and could be found on the ground surface in many locations around the installation.

Current Army regulations require the collection and turn in of retrievable ammunition residue and some of these materials are authorized to be recycled or sold via the Qualified Recycling Program.

The Qualified Recycling Program is an initiative focused on the disposal of recyclable materials and pollution prevention, and one of the ways it manifests at Fort McCoy is in the recycling of spent brass and other authorized materials. This program both eliminates the cost for disposal of authorized items and contributes to funding which supplements many programs at Fort McCoy. It has been an important part of Fort McCoy’s solid waste and recycling program diverting 82 percent of their non-hazardous waste from the landfill in 2021.

Archaeologists working at Fort McCoy used to find shell casings and other ammunition residue both on the ground surface and below, but these days they are rarely seen above ground. Below ground, however, there are still multitudes of materials like these that help document the entirety of the time span soldiers have trained at the installation (1905-Present).

Archaeologists with Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands were investigating a site on South Post in 2016 when they came across nearly a dozen small lead balls spread across approximately half of the 1.5-acre site area. These lead balls were almost certainly shrapnel from an artillery projectile fired sometime around World War I, as the primary impact area used at Fort McCoy prior to the installation expansion around World War II was located on South Post not far from the excavation.

The lead balls are roughly the same size as a marble and would have been packed with hundreds more of the same into an artillery projectile. This projectile would also have contained a fuse timed to detonate prior to impacting on the ground so that the hundreds of lead balls would have dispersed in the widest possible range, producing an effect akin to higher gauge shotgun shells.