Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii -- Through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Mine Action program (HMA), U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, facilitated four rotations of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians to the Kingdom of Thailand and Timor Leste in 2022.
The Humanitarian Mine Action program serves to address the humanitarian needs of nations impacted by Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and Unexploded Explosive Ordnance (UXO) by executing “train-the-trainer” programs of instruction designed to build organic capabilities in conducting a wide range of HMA activities within the host nation.
“The Department of Defense’s HMA program demonstrates presence and our dedication to developing critical capabilities within the U.S. Indo-Pacific region,” said LtCol. Daniel Cusinato, the Humanitarian Mine Action program director for U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. “This program presents our EOD Marines with a unique opportunity to grow and share information with our partner nations, ultimately enhancing the indigenous capability.”
During these rotations, Marines and Sailors from both I and III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) partnered with members of the Timor-Leste National Police (PNTL) and the Royal Thai Military Thailand Mine Action Center (TMAC) to build a sustainable EOD capability through technical assistance and training. The program takes entry-level students and develops technical-level experts capable of conducting a wide range of tasks required of an EOD specialist within the five year program.
“Everything we do is with a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach,” said Master Sgt. Joel Visser, the regional project manager for 3rd EOD Company, III MEF. “We start with the basics, how to identify the fuses, the safeties, how they inform your next steps. As an instructor, it’s amazing going from teaching them the very basics to watching them be able to immediately identify UXO and know exactly what they need to do.”
Under the HMA program, the I & III MEF Marines conduct several rotations a year in order to continue the development of EOD specialists through classroom-based training and practical application. Over the years, the students will advance through three levels of EOD training, each of which is broken into three phases: theoretical, mentorship, and cadre development. The training consists of a large variety of entry-level and advanced EOD concepts including ordnance identification, the detection and clearing of hazardous explosives, the securing and management of conventional munitions, and mine casualty care.
“I remember when one of my former students came to me a couple of years after I had taught him and told me he came upon a vehicle accident where someone was bleeding out,” said Visser. “He told me he was able to use the medical kit he got from our course to stop the bleeding. He was able to save someone’s life because of what he learned here during the program, I could not have felt more pride about what it is that we are doing.”
During the mentorship phase of training, Marine EOD instructors will select top performing students to become the cadre who will be trained to become EOD instructors themselves. During this phase, the EOD teams also work alongside partner nations to develop an EOD curriculum upon which the selected cadre will instruct under the host nation’s own EOD program. The development of the cadre serves as the foundation of the HMA program’s end state objective, assisting nations in developing a lasting EOD capability. Following sufficient training, the Marine instructors adopt a mentorship role, allowing the cadre to lead periods of training, classes, and practical application. This ensures that they are prepared to lead the host nation’s EOD course once the HMA program has completed.
“Each location has its own unique set of challenges. We have to ensure we keep this in mind, especially when training and developing the cadre,” said GySgt. Matthew Eatherton, Regional Project Manager, 1st EOD Company, I MEF. “We have to develop each program to fit the needs of the host nation. That includes developing the cadre – they are the key to ensuring the program results in the establishment of a self-sustaining and enduring host nation capability.”
The HMA program has been vital in reducing the numbers of UXO-related casualties and has enhanced MARFORPAC’s ability to work alongside partner nations, increase interoperability and cooperation, and advance a safer, more secure region. In developing EOD capabilities within our partner nations, the HMA program will continue to save lives, ensure safer conditions for all, and ultimately combat the fear of UXO throughout the Indo-Pacific.
“The program is mutually beneficial. HMA provides our Marines an opportunity to work alongside and learn from our partner nations and in turn develop a self-sustaining capacity to combat UXO,” said Cusinato. “With the recent successes in developing the capacity and friendships with other nations, we are looking to expand our efforts and implement future HMA programs in other locations within the Indo-Pacific region.”