Vavuniya, Sri Lanka — A U.S. military training team visited the Sri Lankan Army’s Humanitarian Demining Unit at Camp Boo-Oya, an area in the northern part of the country where land mine removal has been a main focus since 2003, to unfold the first phase of a program that will help the Sri Lankan Army enhance its medical efforts and mine-removal abilities.
From February 18 to 22, the team instructed more than 100 engineers, medics and explosive ordnance technicians in three courses: medical first responder, explosive ordnance disposal and veterinary care. The training will help the engineers in their efforts to remove land mines left from the country’s civil war that still maim and kill civilians, obstruct emergency assistance and stop freedom of movement for citizens in the region.
“Humanitarian demining allows civilians to walk in these areas with comfort,” said Brigadier General Buwaneka Randiniya, commander of the Sri Lankan Army’s Engineer Brigade.
Randiniya welcomed the team after the traditional lighting of an oil lamp, a Sri Lankan custom signifying wishes for the success of an event. He described the training as a milestone in the Engineer Brigade’s land mine removal efforts.
The Sri Lankan mine removers, veterinarian assistants, dog handlers and medics trained with a joint team of U.S. medical specialists, veterinarian specialists and explosive ordnance specialists drawn from U.S. military units in the Pacific.
The medical first-responder course provided the mine removers and medics with lessons in initial medical treatment for injured soldiers; the veterinary training covered care for mine-detection dogs; and the explosive ordnance training focused on ordnance storage and disposal techniques.
“This first phase of training will build a true capacity and capability throughout the entire Sri Lankan Army,” said U.S. Army Sergeant Major David Galati. “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 said mine removers 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, then teach the course themselves while being observed by U.S. trainers during the third phase. The mine removers will also receive more explosive ordnance and veterinary training during the second and third phases.
The engineers receiving the training were identified for additional duties in the brigade as medics, veterinary assistants and explosive ordnance specialists in 2003 and 2004, and this is the first refresher training for many of them.
“Demining has been ongoing since 2004, and post-war resettlement and demining went hand-in-hand,” said Travis Sinniah, a defense cooperation officer and security specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo. “The demining level had to be stepped up, because people had to resettle. With nongovernment organizations leaving the country, the main effort went to the Sri Lankan Army engineers, who have played a huge part in the effort.”
Sinniah said the ultimate goal is to see the Sri Lankan 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 Major Sudeera Talagala, a veterinary surgeon with the Sri Lankan Army.
The Army chose Talagala, and he is the only veterinarian in the Army. “The dogs don’t face many medical problems,” Talagala said. “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 demining training from the U.S. Army, especially the medical first-response training, which is so critical in saving lives,” said U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Glenda Pollard, chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo.