Thirty-eight Mozambican soldiers successfully completed a three-week de-mining training course in Maputo taught by five US Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) technicians.
The course, which finished on June 24, was a partnership between US Africa Command and the Mozambique military. It laid the groundwork for Mozambique soldiers to be able to locate and destroy landmines and other unexploded munitions. Decades of conflict has rendered much of the usable farmland inaccessible with explosives posing a danger to people, livestock and wildlife.
“Many of these mines have been here 30 years or more. A lot of them are older than the soldiers that we are training to deal with them,” said EOD Training team Officer-In-Charge Lieutenant Gregory Bobich.
Mozambique is one of the most mined countries in the world and there are no records of where and how many mines have been deployed in the country.
“Tens of thousands of landmines were laid in Mozambique during its 1964-1975 fight for independence and throughout the civil war that followed,” said John Zak, a Grants Program Coordinator with the US Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique
Landmines injure or kill approximately 20 Mozambican’s a month, and 60% of the injuries are fatal due to inadequate medical care, according to Handicap International.
To make matters worse, natural disasters like floods have caused surveyed mine fields to spread or move entirely.
The landmine problem in Mozambique is daunting and soon these soldiers will be part of the solution.
The soldiers, mostly privates, stood smiling and talking in a loose formation before the graduation ceremony started.
One member of the crowd yelled something and the soldiers raised their voices in song. The de-miners danced and clapped as they sang. Individual members of the group came forward and danced. The energy rose as the dance moves increased in flamboyance and athleticism.
The EOD technicians smiled, clapped and enjoyed the show. “I had no idea they were going to do that, we never heard them planning anything it just seemed to happen,” said Petty Officer First Class Chris Boos.
After talking with the soldiers, the songs took on a deeper meaning. The first song said, “Whatever difficulty we face we will overcome.” The second song was in English and repeated the chorus, “We are happy to be here together.” The last song seemed especially appropriate for the graduation ceremony. “The song says, ‘Which way shall we go to get across,'” said Armed Forces for the Defence of Mozambique Private Donaldo Leonardo Munguambe. “In the song we are asking which way we should go because of the mines.”
The threat of mines has been a constant in each of these soldier’s lives, a threat that has even found its way into their music.
The ceremony started, and 38 soldiers received graduation certificates, officially completing the first portion of their de-mining training. Three members of the class received certificates of completion and will receive further training to bring their skills up to standard.
One recent graduate sees the importance of the class through the eyes of his fiancé. “She is worried about me,” said Munguambe. “She knows the job is dangerous, but it’s my job. She is proud– because of my work, tomorrow she can dream about opening a farm,” said Munguambe.
The soldiers will receive more group training from the Mozambique military, followed by individual apprenticeship programs with experienced de-miners. After they complete their de-mining apprenticeship they will join active de-mining units in the field and be able to safely remove mines and train apprentices of their own.
As the training is shared and Mozambique’s military increases its de-mining capabilities, participants hope, in response to the song asking, “Which way shall we go,” that their country’s path will lead towards security and prosperity and away from the problem of landmines.