The day started much like the rest of the days here, bright and early. I met Bora downstairs of the hostel I was staying at and we headed out to the field (Bora runs the EOD team). We set off for Battampang. It was going to be a couple hour drive. We actually were working about 100Km past Battampang along the Thai border. The most heavily mined area in Cambodia.
Side note….. The whole time I could not stop thinking about my first trip out. I had met with MAG on my first trip in Battampang. And now I was heading back to the place that I was first exposed to this work. On that trip I was merely a spectator. This trip I was attached to the EOD team for CSHD (Cambodian Self-Help Demining). It just reminded me of how far WE have come in such a short time. I never would have thought WE would have taken this idea to where WE have.
We arrived to the field and got to work. We checked the map and saw the progress the team has been making over the past 5 days. They had found 8 land mines in that period of time. They still had over 100,000.00 square meters to clear…. Its amazing how this work is accomplished and the dedication of these men and woman. They spend 25 days straight out in the field with only 5 days off at home. Thats 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
As we walked the field it was a much different feeling this time. As I was just spectating their work, I was going to be detonating what they had found at the end of the day. Handling different “tools of the trade”. Its almost like you’ve seen one field you have seen them all. Not that I was taking it lightly…. make no mistake, my steps were directly in the footprints of Bora who was leading me out. And yes… I had to make known my blood type again. That in itself heightens your awareness.
We located what had been found and also had determined the spot where it would be detonated. We called the deminers off the field around 3:30pm. We do not set any explosives while there are people working the field for obvious reasons. We headed out with one other member of the EOD team and secured the plastic explosives from a lockbox that is set off of the field a safe distance. Walked the explosives and the detonation cable to the site where we had dug a pit. We would not be remotely detonating this time. We placed the land mines in the pit and covered them with dirt. We then placed the plastic explosive over those mines and covered that too with dirt. We retreated to a safe distance that was about 150 meters away. We are normally 300 meters away because we normally detonate cluster munitions along with whatever it is we have found. And its also normally closer to the surface because we do not touch or move the cluster bombs due to them being so volatile. Before we left the are where we had set the explosives, we made sure that the “centuries” were in place. We have 3 members of the team placed around the field to assure no one (civilians) walk into the field during a detonation. While it is unlikely, we are concerned about secondary detonations due to the shock wave that is sent through the ground. Its possible that it could set off the unfound UXO.
We did our thing and detonated the mines. Then we headed back to the site to clear up the remains of what we detonated. After this we headed to camp with the rest of the team. They were getting cleaned up and preparing to have dinner. I was reminded of playing baseball and how we all acted after we had finished a game and were suiting down. Laughing and scratching, poking fun at each other…. a lot of camaraderie. These men and woman work under extreme conditions. The heat is at times paralyzing. The equipment is bulky and heavy. Air does not flow through the uniform/gear. Not to mention the stress of hunting for things that have the potential of killing you, and truly you have no clue where they might be…. I hope this can shed some light and give you all some perspective to what is happening here and what/who you are supporting. These people are the meaning of HERO… While it is a job to them, this job requires you to risk it all every minute, every second, and every step you take during the day. AND there are two members of the team that have fallen victim to a land mine detonation. They are both below the elbow amputees, each missing a hand. Yet they choose to head into a mine field as to prevent anyone else having to go through what they did. Truly inspiring men….I never saw them NOT smiling.