18th MEDCOM (DS) Soldiers lead first U.S. Army Pacific Humanitarian Mining Action Program with Sri Lankan Army Humanitarian Demining Unit
Vavuniya, Sri Lanka – Medical specialists from 18th Medical Command (Deployment Support) led a joint mobile training team of specialist to the Sri Lankan Army Humanitarian Demining Unit’s Camp Boo-Oya, an area in the northern part of the country where de-mining has been a main focus since 2003, to unfold the first phase of an Humanitarian Mining Action Program that will help the Sri Lankan Army enhance its medical efforts and ability with de-mining in that region of the country. From Feb 18-22, the team instructed over 100 engineer, medics, and explosive ordnance technicians in a medical first responder train-the-trainer course, explosive ordnance disposal course, and veterinary training that will help the engineers in their efforts in removing mines that were left from the country’s civil war that still maim and kill innocent civilians, obstructs emergency assistance and stops freedom movement of the citizens in the region.
"Humanitarian de-mining allows civilians to walk in these areas with comfort," said Brig. Gen. Buwaneka Randiniya, Commander, Engineer Brigade Sri Lankan Army. Randiniya welcomed the team after the lighting of the traditional oil lamp, which is a Sri Lanka cultural tradition signifying the wishes of prosperity of an event and described the training as a milestone in the units de-mining program efforts.
The deminers, veterinarian assistants, dog handlers, and medics trained with a joint team of medical specialists from 18th MEDCOM (DS) and Pacific Air Force, veterinarian specialist from Public Health Command Region-Pacific, and explosive ordinance specialists from 8th Theater Sustainment Command. The medical first responder course provided the deminers and medics training on how to give initial medical treatment to injured Soldiers, the veterinary training provided training for the mine detection dogs, and the explosive ordinance training focused on ordinance storage and techniques of disposal.
"This first phase of training will build a true capacity and capability throughout the entire Sri Lankan Army, said Sgt. Maj. David Galati, senior clinical operations noncommissioned officer, 18th MEDCOM (DS). "The second phase will integrate a medical first responder course into the Sri Lankan Army's engineer school's curriculum, a change that has been approved by the brigade commander, and every engineer will get the medical first responder training." Galati went on the say that deminers and medics receiving this first phase of the medical first responder course will work side-by-side with U.S. Army trainers during the second phase and instruct the course themselves while being observed by U.S. trainers during the third phase.
The deminers will also receive more explosive ordnance and veterinary training during the second and third phase. The engineers receiving the training were identified for additional duties in the brigade as medics, veterinary assistants, and explosive ordinance specialists in 2003 and 2004, and this is the first refresher training for many of them.
"De-mining has been ongoing since 2004 and post war resettlement and de-mining went hand-in-hand," said Commodore(retired) Travis Sinniah, Defense Cooperation Officer and Security Specialist, Sri Lanka U.S. Embassy. "The de-mining level had to be stepped up, because people had to resettle. With non-government organizations leaving the country the main effort went to the Sri Lankan Army engineers, who have played a huge part in the effort." Travis went on to say that the ultimate goal is to see the Sri Lanka Army training their own and when they have completed their job helping their people, they can go around the world to help others.
"A huge part of the mining operations is the mine detection dogs donated to the Army by the Marshall Legacy Institute, but before the department would donate the dogs, the Army had to acquire a veterinarian to care for the dogs," said Maj. Sudeera Talagala, veterinary surgeon, Sri Lankan Army. The Army choose Talagala and he is the only veterinarian in the entire Army. "The dogs don't face many medical problems," said Talagala. "Babesiosis (tick fever) is the main problem, otherwise the dogs are very healthy." "This is a good opportunity to learn from each other and for the Sri Lankan Army Humanitarian Demining Unit to get advanced de-mining training from the U.S. Army, especially the medical first response training, which is so critical in saving lives,” said Lieutenant Commander Glenda Pollard, Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation, Sri Lanka U.S. Embassy.