The U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Training Center: A Center of Excellence
by Lloyd D. Carpenter, Course Manager, Paul Arcangeli, Director, and Rodney A. Robideau, Technical Director, HDTC
Humanitarian mine action (HMA) is a field known for its paradigm shifts. Just as technological advances create more efficient and less expensive alternatives to old products and methodologies, emerging technologies offer newer and safer ways to detect landmines. Integrating these advances into the HMA community and thereby the training curriculum, is one challenge faced by the staff of the U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Training Center (HDTC).
Established in 1996, HDTC is located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and is the U.S. Department of Defense training facility for HMA. The center is in a modern 15,000 sq ft. building set amid the rolling hills of the Ozarks. In December 2003, the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) directed HDTC be transferred to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency for oversight and direct supervision.
The typical student attending the two-week HMA course comes primarily from the Army's Special Operations Forces (SOF). The students come to the HDTC to prepare them to deploy on HMA training missions in one of the 43 mine-affected nations presently supported by the United States. These missions range from establishing a new program to maintaining ongoing mine action initiatives. SOF soldiers are well-suited to perform HMA missions due to their experience working overseas in small units, their ability to work independently and an innate cultural awareness. The last trait is extremely important, since these "unofficial ambassadors" represent the United States—its people, government and military—to the citizens of the host nation. The contact these soldiers have with their counterparts and students may be far more personal and intense in nature than that which many diplomats experience.
The basic HDTC curriculum is the same for all students during the first week. This common-core training focuses on the basic premises of mission planning, U.S. Policy, and the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). All students are exposed to the rigors of demining during an introduction to the use of mine detectors and basic mine clearance procedures. It is during this training that all students don protective equipment and locate and expose a mine in a one-meter training lane while at the same time practicing safe and proper techniques and procedures. While the novelty of the task first amuses the soldiers, this training quickly demonstrates the difficulties and tedium of clearing vegetation, avoiding trip wires and finally, of preparing the mine for destruction in place.
During the second week, students are trained according to their specific responsibilities for the upcoming mission. Generally speaking, Special Forces soldiers focus on demining skills throughout the second week of training, as it will be their responsibility to train deminers in the host nation. These particular soldiers arrive at the HDTC with many of the skills necessary to teach demining; they are experienced trainers, possess advanced language skills and have extensive training with explosives.
Civil Affairs soldiers arrive already trained and experienced in working with ministerial levels of government. This background lends itself well to the program management and infrastructure development aspect of HMA. These students are given additional training on general management, the U.S. Department of State's Country Plan Assessment, the host nation's current work plan, and an overview of other organizations involved within the country. Armed with this knowledge, these soldiers are called upon to teach or assist in strategic planning, coordinate efforts with other HMA activities, and advise in logistical planning.
Additional Components of HMA
Mine risk education (MRE) is a vital aspect of HMA, allowing the greatest reach and influence at the lowest program cost. To achieve this goal, soldiers from the U.S. Army's Psychological Operations organizations bring product development skills to the table. These skilled warriors receive much of the same training as Civil Affairs soldiers regarding the HMA situation in a host nation. Additionally, they receive mission-focused training on MRE methodology, identification of at-risk groups, and integration of community-based MRE efforts into the larger country-wide program.
Another group of soldiers supporting the U.S. government's HMA effort come from the U.S. Military's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) specialty. These highly trained technicians hail from all branches of the Armed Forces. A typical class may include soldiers, sailors and Marines. It is this specific diversity that often strengthens the group's skill sets and experience level. EOD students receive the same basic HMA instruction as all students attending training at the HDTC. Since they already possess a strong background in the UXO disposal, their mission preparation concentrates primarily on the type of threat and the type of training they will have to plan for the host nation. EOD technicians leave HDTC with a perspective of how to address explosive contamination from an HMA perspective.
Students and visitors are often surprised at the level of sophistication awaiting them at the HDTC. The HDTC Museum is at the reception area, where all manner of mines, ordnance and interactive displays are available for evaluation. The inert mines are displayed on shelves, intact or as cut-away models, or even in an underground side-view of emplacement. The museum includes an ever-expanding variety of fuses, anti-handling devices, bombs, rockets, sub-munitions, detectors, protective equipment and ammunition.
Given the center's varied contacts throughout the HMA community, many different people, organizations and agencies have come together to provide inert samples of the many items found in countries where the U.S. government HMA program is involved. More than just an interesting place to visit, the museum allows students and visitors an opportunity to safely see and touch "the real thing." This enhances the learning experience, and gives all a keener understanding of the threat from these indiscriminate killers.
Teaching at the HDTC
Course Managers at the HDTC all have a primary area of expertise. In addition, they each fill alternate or assistant instructor positions in one or more other courses. At first glance, this broad-reaching collaboration may appear less difficult than it is in application. The expectation is that all staff members reach beyond the Center's current activities and scope to become subject matter experts in one or more HMA-related areas. This directly supports the Department of Defense's vision for a "Center of Excellence" in HMA training.
With over 100 acres of land available for training, the HDTC provides students with full-scale layouts of mine clearance operations, to include associated support areas. Each area is constructed in accordance with provisions of the international standards for mine action. Other lanes show examples of indigenous marking systems used in clearance operations throughout the world. One particularly interesting display depicts landmines that were emplaced several years ago, with vegetation and terrain allowed to "age" naturally. Purposely, the area is not maintained or changed in any way so students are able to observe mines that have become more or less visible, changed color, become rotted or migrated due to the effects of weathering. What students leave with is an innate understanding of the effects nature may have on actual mined areas. Fallen limbs and heavy undergrowth underscore the difficulties faced by deminers in many parts of the world.
The HDTC staff is comprised of experienced professionals—most with prior military experience. These staff members have extensive backgrounds in areas such as EOD, engineering, Information Technology and Special Operations. Along with U.S. personnel, a military representative of the Royal New Zealand Army also augments the staff. While the bulk of the HDTC staff is U.S. government employees, the New Zealand Army representative is the only current active-duty military member of the staff, and brings in-depth experience gained throughout his engineering career.
The HDTC has deployed its staff members on military training missions and assessments to numerous countries to augment and advise military HMA team trainers. These deployments provide several direct benefits: they provide a ready source of information to the military training team and they allow staff members to gain firsthand observations of HMA operations throughout the world. This in turn ensures that the HDTC is up-to-date on the latest techniques and technology in use by the HMA community.
Another way the HDTC continues to evolve is through feedback from the "customer," namely, the students or their units. Recently, Psychological Operations students indicated additional areas they felt would be beneficial to their training and understanding of HMA. In response, the HDTC sent a representative to attend training with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. This training focused on the latest findings and associative relevance of epidemiology and public health methods of assessment to analyze and present data used for planning and monitoring. Additionally, the HDTC hosted representatives from the Psychological Operations unit to discuss specific needs and recommendations. This interactive course development process allowed the center to update and implement changes for subsequent classes.
New Plans for Training
The HDTC is planning to add two additional training modules to its curriculum. The first is a Level 1 UXO Clearance course that will enhance training of technicians to perform battle area clearance (BAC) in contaminated areas. Students attending this course will graduate with specialized knowledge gained from hands-on training and mission-specific lesson material in-hand for use in teaching students in the specific host nation.
The second new training module pertains to an information database manager's course on the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA), the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) standardized mine action database. The HDTC responded to requests from its "customers" to add this module to our curriculum and already uses a version of IMSMA that incorporates digitized maps of the local training area at Fort Leonard Wood. This allows students to work with actual survey data collected from simulated hazard areas and incorporate them into IMSMA.
Landmine clearance is a deadly serious business. With this ever in mind, the HDTC staff works diligently to conduct all training in accordance with IMAS and to find and teach safer ways to perform HMA operations, thereby fully supporting the U.S. government's Mine Action Program.
Rodney A. Robideau