U.S. Marines are in their fifth week working alongside Senegalese armed forces partners, mentoring and advising a demining course for the West African nation.
A group of explosive ordnance disposal technicians with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, began assisting Senegalese engineers as part of the Humanitarian Mine Action Program on 15 February at Camp Moussa, an engineer training base, in Bargny, Senegal.
The Marines, based out of Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, are in Senegal at the host nation’s request and coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Dakar.
The U.S. State Department HMA program, created in 1993, “provides increased humanitarian mine action assistance to countries suffering from the presence of persistent landmines, which maim and kill innocents, obstruct emergency assistance activities, hamper economic development, and impede free movement of citizens.”
In 2005, Senegal adopted a law prohibiting anti-personnel mines in the country, according to United Nations Mine Action Services, a UN department involved in 30 countries and three territories responsible for responding to problems of landmines and explosive remnants of wars.
While they’re not directly demining, the Marines, along with EOD technicians with Vermont Air National Guard and Austrian Armed Forces, are validating the Senegalese soldiers’ previous instruction during the six-week, train-the-trainer course.
The train-the-trainer program initially began in 2014, when EOD Marines from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Vermont Air National Guard EOD technicians began teaching a group of veteran, hand-selected Senegalese soldiers how to be instructors.
Now, in its second phase, the same three Senegalese soldiers, all engineers, are instructing eight junior-level soldiers in an EOD level one class, which teaches students how identify various types of ordnance and landmines and how to properly mark its locations.
In one practical application exercise, the soldiers used a reconnaissance kit, which allowed them to gather all the information and successfully identified various types of ordnance.
During another, the students successfully used a pulley system and rope to remove an inert mortar round from the ground and move it safely to another spot. The intent wasn’t to actually move the ordnance, rather to get the students familiar with different types of tools.
The course progression is all coming from the instructors, not the Marines, said Staff Sgt. Mike Hill, the EOD team leader.
“Throughout the past month, all we’ve been doing is not just listening to the instructors, but observing how well the students are absorbing the knowledge,” said Hill. “Part of this train the trainer program is how they effectively teach what they know, how well their command presence looks. What we do at the end of the day is provide constructive criticism and tell them what they could do better. So far, the instructors have been great and the students have done well every time they go outside and get some hands-on training. It really shows how effective the instructors are.”
Though Hill believes the students will have the capability and confidence to apply their new skills at the conclusion of the course, the intent is to put the instructors through EOD levels two and three, which will enable the instructors to teach students more hands-on approaches to demining.
“We want to get the instructors trained in all EOD levels, so they can actually have a humanitarian demining school where they can teach students this program on a regular basis,” said Hill. “Before the school happens, the United Nations will have to certify the students in peacekeeping demining, which is the ultimate goal.”
Since the HMA program began, the number of civilian casualties has dropped to more than 5,000 annually, from 26,000 worldwide, according to a 2008 “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” publication from the U.S. State Department.
Senegalese Sgt. Usmann Ka, the lead engineer instructor, is glad to be instructing this program to his soldiers because he feels the more knowledge his country has to demine his country, the more confident his people will be in their military.
“When the last Marines came here to teach us about demining, they were of big help to us to where we can teach our students,” said Ka. “Now, we can apply this knowledge if we are sent somewhere so we can keep people safe from the areas they live in. The students come in every day motivated to learn as much as possible and they are eager to be sent to places where demining is needed.”