On February 13-15, 2019, new staff members from the State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) visited the Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Training Center (HDTC) in Fort Lee, Virginia for orientation training on explosive ordnance (UXO) clearance techniques and first aid, as well as to coordinate joint State and Defense efforts to sustain and improve the capability of partner nations to conduct conventional weapons destruction (CWD) programs. As part of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, HDTC is DoD’s center of excellence for the training of deploying U.S. personnel supporting humanitarian demining missions.
Since 1993, WRA’s program staff have overseen most of the U.S. Government’s $3.4 billion in assistance in over 100 countries to clear explosive remnants of war (ERW) such as landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and UXO, destroy excess small arms and light weapons (SA/LW); and provide physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) for their stocks of SA/LW and munitions. Properly executed CWD programs can promote post-conflict stabilization, facilitate the safe return of displaced peoples, and enhance economic opportunities that are crucial to prosperity and political stability.
WRA staff regularly visit the 48 countries with active CWD programs to monitor and evaluate the work of international implementing partners like The HALO Trust, Tetra Tech, and Mines Advisory Group as well as to build the capacity of partner nation demining personnel and security forces. This work sometimes involves entering active minefields and UXO-strewn former battlefields still in the process of being cleared of explosives, and visiting arms depots with unstable and improperly-secured munitions.
The training provided by HDTC was invaluable in this context, as it gave WRA staff the opportunity to review the many types of landmines, UXO, and IEDs that implementing partners might encounter in the field. It also reiterated basic clearance procedures on how to safely search for and mark explosives for more experienced explosive ordnance disposal teams to clear or destroy. WRA staff do not clear minefields themselves, as that is the work of our implementing partners, but they do need to keep up to speed on current clearance techniques in an effect to ensure the most effective use of funds.
To that end, WRA staff learned how to clear and mark a safe path out of a minefield, should they find themselves in an unmarked hazardous area, and how to provide basic first aid and trauma care. WRA staff demonstrated what they had learned in a culminating practical exercise. This simulated a real world scenario where the team would need to call for assistance from international NGOs or partner nation security forces, clear their way to treat an injured colleague, and stabilize a mannequin that had suffered massive trauma from an IED.
In addition to the classroom training and practical exercises, WRA and HDTC staff also met to coordinate their joint efforts to build capacity capability of partner nations to conduct humanitarian mine action and PSSM programs. WRA and the HDTC work in many of the same countries and complement each other’s efforts. WRA funds clearance efforts directly, through our implementing partners, while HDTC spent $3.173 million in FY 2018 to train both foreign and U.S. military personnel on basic and advanced techniques through Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Level I-III coursework that is in accordance with U.S. military doctrine and the International Mine Action Standards.
U.S. military personnel train at HDTC before they deploy to DoD-funded mine action and PSSM projects, which are requested by the regional geographic combatant command and coordinated through WRA and the local U.S. embassy. Foreign military officers, non-commissioned officers, and civil servants may travel to HDTC for several weeks of EOD training at the appropriate level that is conducted on the train-the-trainer model.
Thus, WRA and the HDTC collaborate via an annual training course in a joint, interagency effort to provide both humanitarian mine action and PSSM programs that leverage the differing strengths and expertise of both organizations.
About the Author: Andrew Strike is a Public Affairs Specialist in the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs (PM/CPA).