'Screaming Eagle' Soldiers oversee demining in Democratic Republic of the Congo
May 15, 2012
KISANGANI, Congo (May 14, 2012) -- Years after the Great War of Africa ended, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is covered with remnants of war scattered throughout the country in the aftermath of one of the deadliest conflicts worldwide since World War II.
In an effort to help the DRC reduce the number of land mines and unexploded ordnance, four Soldiers from the 184th Ordnance Battalion (EOD), out of Fort Campbell, Ky., provided a train-the-trainer (TTT) course with 11 Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) deminers to improve their explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) skills.
This engagement, which is part of the Humanitarian Mine Action program, took place April 6 through 27 at Camp Base in Kisangani, the capitol of the Orientale Province in the DRC.
The main objective of this exercise was to improve the FARDC deminers' EOD skill sets to a point where they can set up a sustainable program in the DRC and to improve relations between the DRC and the United States, said Capt. Charles A. Schnake, the exercise officer in charge.
"The HMA mission gives EOD technicians a chance to share lessons-learned with our allies and to sustain amiable relations. It's also an opportunity for U.S. Soldiers to experience a once in a lifetime mission to work in new environments. It was important to me because it gave me the chance to make a lasting impact in the sustainability of life-saving skill sets with our partners overseas," Schnake, a Honolulu, Hawaii native said.
The first three days of the engagement focused on assessing the level of proficiency for the FARDC deminers. After their progress was evaluated, the Congolese soldiers were taught ordnance identification, explosives safety and theory, metal detector operations and demolitions.
Staff Sgt. Robert L. Hayslett, the head instructor and noncommissioned officer in charge of the mission, said he enjoyed seeing the DRC military eager to learn, broaden their skill set and accomplish the mission.
"The United States has the resources and the personnel with the experience available to teach these critical skills to these soldiers, it's nice to see the U.S. has a vested interest in the area. My favorite part was the interaction with the foreign students, getting to interact with a foreign military.
This event is an opportunity that not a lot of Soldiers have, and we can now take these partnering experiences back and use them abroad," Hayslett said.
During the 21-day program of instruction, both sides were able to take away important lessons from the experience.
Sgt. David Muhamadi Ramazani, a pioneer with 9th Engineer, said he is grateful for the detailed instruction provided.
"We didn't even know small things like the difference between rockets and projectiles, and I am glad the U.S. sent people to help us," Ramazani said.
Schnake said he experienced the differences between humanitarian missions compared to traditional partnerships in Operation Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) theaters.
"Even with limitations in resources and technology, with no power or automation, just a simple chalkboard to explain advanced concepts in EOD operations, good mentoring can still be accomplished. This can be a daunting task, but it can be overcome by relating concepts that are readily understood universally. Relating theory to everyday objects can become a much more powerful tool to remembering key concepts than with a PowerPoint presentation," Schnake said.
At the end of the engagement, both sides agreed this mission created a strong partnership and a mutual respect for both militaries.
"Since the American teams have arrived, we have come to realize with these partnerships we are improving. We would wish to continue the partnership because we still have much to learn," Ramazani said.
Schnake also hoped for continued partnerships with the DRC.
"Seeing how they retained so much information from partnering with previous EOD teams helped to build a mutual respect that they grasped the information. My favorite part about the mission was that there is a genuine opportunity to impart good, technical knowledge and enhance the lives of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We anticipate that with continued partnerships with the U.S. in the country, the Congolese can start up a National Center for mentoring future EOD technicians," Schnake said.