Vermont Conducts First HMA Course

U.S. service members in the Humanitarian Mine Action Basic Course HMA 05-15, practice their humanitarian mine detection skills during a practical exercise at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site, Jericho, Vt., Aug. 13, 2015. This is the first humanitarian mine action course taught at this location. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Rivard)U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Rivard

JERICHO, Vt. — U.S. service members from three different branches, Navy, Air Force and Army, came together at the Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho for the first humanitarian demining training course held at this location.
Mobile training team (MTT) instructors move to different locations to teach this course because there are only a few locations to teach the course.

“There are several reasons why we train here and in Spain and back at Fort Lee as well,” said New Zealand Army Sgt. Maj. Evan Windleborn, MTT instructor. “It’s easier to send two instructors away and let Soldiers spend time at home.”

Windleborn said the training unit moved from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, to Fort Lee in Virginia last year and currently they do not have a training area. The Vermont training area and training area in Spain allows them to still instruct and pass on their humanitarian demining knowledge.

The Vermont National Guard built humanitarian demining training lanes in Senegal with their Senegalese state partners earlier in the year and wanted to do a similar project in their home state.

“In February, we helped construct humanitarian demining training lanes in Senegal with one of our state partners and we thought we could build similar training lanes in Vermont,” said 1st Sgt. Thomas Comes, company 1st Sgt. and range operations noncommissioned officer, Detachment 1, Garrison Support Command. “We designed a site and the mobile training team instructors offered additional guidance on its construction. We want to establish a humanitarian demining training center here in Vermont because it is more affordable to train stateside service members here rather than having them travel to the training center in Spain.”

The two-week course covers the humanitarian mine action process, from demining on the ground, to mine action operations at the national level. All training adheres to the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). This includes country specific, mine action information technology and real world tactics, techniques and procedures.

“For me personally, or from my perspective coming from New Zealand, New Zealand is quite passionate about humanitarian demining,” said Windleborn. “In the early 80s along with the Australians and the Dutch armed forces, we set up a training area in Cambodia, Cambodian Mine Action Center.”

Windleborn’s passion for humanitarian demining continues to this day and is passed to his students.

“I was excited. I wasn’t sure what to expect to be completely honest. I didn’t anticipate the level in-depth that it would go into of the actual search techniques or more importantly the training of how to establish a team to do a deep search and things like that,” said Spc. Shane Alston, infantryman, 86th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “I thought it would be more personal demining and teaching how to personally disable or disarm mines initially. I was pretty surprised and it is enjoyable so far.”

This is a new skill set for Alston. He is a prior-service Vermont National Guard Soldier with four years of active-duty Army service, but this course is teaching him new skills everyday.

“Yesterday during the one-man drill, it was probably the most out of the element that I have ever been as an infantryman,” laughed Alston. “It’s usually back away and call the EOD guys, but learning how to work in and around it was the most exciting and kind of brought attention to detail to a whole new meaning.”

The course follows the “train the trainer” instructional method and prepares service members to conduct humanitarian mine action missions in landmine and other explosive remnants of war disposal, as well as physical security and stockpile management.

“Upon the students graduating, they will be sent downrange in the various COCOMS [Combatant Command], whether its AFRICOM, Europe, or PACOM,” said Windleborn. “They will work hand-in-hand with host nations, partner nations, they could be setting up demining training centers, they could be teaching battlefield clearance, also EOD level I course.”

Learning a new skill and becoming effective trainers in international demining standards is the goal of the course, but instructors and students also look at the big picture of what they are ultimately accomplishing.

“Its good to rebuild communities, societies, open up water sources, farmland, so they can farm themselves,” said Windleborn. “It also removes the threat of these weapons being uplifted and used somewhere else, potentially against U.S. forces or other coalition forces in those areas, so all in all, it’s a big win all the way around.”

“It will be an exceptionally rewarding experience because there is a tangible result at the end of the day,” said Alston. “With my deployment [Afghanistan], we did improve the villages around the FOB, we did do a lot of area improvement, but it wasn’t necessarily tangible, it was just security more than anything else, but with this you can say, “I cleared that field and now it can be farmed.” It adds a measure of satisfaction that I think you would be hard pressed to find other places in the military.”

This is the first course of its kind being taught in Vermont and a second course is scheduled to begin the week after its completion.