SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii− Kicking off what will be a first of its kind Humanitarian Mine Action collaboration between U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) and the Vietnam National Mine Action Center (VNMAC), a team of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) trainers with the 303rd EOD Battalion, 8th Military Police Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, along with a team of medical trainers from 18th Medical Command (Deployment Support) and 8th MP Bde., conducted HMA and Medical First Responder Training at the Technical Engineering School located in Son Tay, Vietnam from Aug. 8-31, 2016.
The four-year HMA program will certify Vietnamese explosive ordnance and medical technicians in accordance with the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). The program consists of four phases with each phase scheduled to occur every year for the next four years.
"The EOD missions we're conducting aren't necessarily unique to USARPAC. But, the holistic and long-term focus of our planning and execution probably are," said Lt. Col. Shawn Kadlec, EOD commander, who has multiple EOD Companies operating in the region. "In addition to HMA, each company will execute other missions and training events in their assigned countries. This holistic approach allows each unit to build a depth and breadth of understanding of their assigned countries; and results in the lasting personal relationships required to effectively develop partner nation EOD capabilities"
Unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the region continues to endanger the lives of Vietnamese citizens every day. Many Vietnamese citizens, from a young child playing outside to a farmer tilling his land, have lost their limbs and even their lives because of UXOs.
Vietnamese deminers have been working to clear the different providences in Vietnam of UXOs for many years and with the help of the 303rd EOD team, the deminers will be able to expand their knowledge and learn new techniques, which will help to improve the deminers' missions and better secure the safety of the Vietnamese people from UXOs.
"They (Vietnamese soldiers) were extremely respectful and motivated to be taking on this challenge," said 1st Lt. Richard Calvin, EOD officer in charge. "They were genuinely excited to learn how to keep themselves and their countrymen safe."
The USARPAC EOD and medical instructors will train the Vietnamese students to become IMAS instructors. Eventually, the program will enable the VNMAC to sustainably train, educate and certify their Vietnamese soldiers in the demining process. The collaborative program will help USARPAC and Vietnam to further build upon and strengthen their existing military partnership, in addition to improving the safety of Vietnamese deminers and citizens.
"This mission is important for the 303rd and USARPAC because it strengthens our partner nation's ability to keep themselves safe from UXOs," said Calvin. "This will help increase stability in the country because of increased trust in the government to protect its citizens, which increases stability in USARPAC's area of operation."
EOD trainer Staff Sgt. Thomas Wilkins said he was excited and more than happy to be a part of the HMA program.
"Not only are we training them to become instructors, but knowledge is power and giving them that knowledge allows them to go home to their families and to live another day," said Wilkins.
During the first phase of training, Vietnamese soldiers learned many new techniques such as explosive theory, ordnance identification and basic U.S. demolition procedures.
"By the end, some of them who had been deminers for many years told us that they had learned so much more about how to keep themselves and others safe. It was good to know that we had gained enough respect that they were willing to admit they needed more help," said Calvin.
While a handful of Vietnamese soldiers received EOD training, another group consisting of Vietnamese medical technicians received basic Medical First Responder Training from MEDCOM and 8th MP Bde. senior medics.
"The U.S. Army has some of the best developed combat life saver and first responder traumatic injury training," said Maj. Kelly Mann, 8th MP Brigade surgeon. "They learned how to treat the traumatic injuries encountered with demining."
Mann said she was awed by the eagerness and dedication the Vietnamese medical technicians displayed as they participated in the training.
"They were extremely motivated to be receiving the medical training," said Mann. "They asked questions and gained their skills quickly."
As the first phase of training concluded, both training teams agreed that they could not be more pleased with the relationship they were able to establish with the Vietnamese soldiers.
"The personal relationships that we build over the four years of this program will help to increase future relations," said Calvin.
Kadlec added that the successful execution of the first phase of the HMA mission was the result of, "superb collaboration across multiple echelons and organizations."
"I couldn't be happier with the performance and professionalism of the EOD and medical NCOs and Soldiers that executed this mission. Their professionalism and adaptability enabled them to overcome all unforeseen circumstances and deliver a quality training event," he said.
The way ahead
The 303rd EOD team will return within the next six months to review the level one IMAS training with the Vietnamese soldiers before moving on to the next level, which is scheduled to occur in the summer of 2017.
"This part of the mission was a great success. The students that made it through the course demonstrated that they had absorbed most of the knowledge we had given them. The test will be when we go back for the next iteration to see how much of it they have retained," said Calvin.
He added, "We have a long way to go before we can call it mission complete."