U.S., South Sudan partner during de-mining courses
By Staff Sgt. R.J. Biermann, CJTF - HOA Public Affairs
JUBA, South Sudan – Five service members from U.S. Africa Command partnered with the year-old Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to instruct 18 SPLA soldiers recently.
This marks the third humanitarian mine action (HMA) military-to-military training engagement between AFRICOM and the SPLA, during which HMA explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and tactical casualty combat care (TCCC) train-the-trainer courses were held with a simple mission focus.
"We partnered to teach students to be instructors," said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Lewis, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa EOD technician.
Although a perishable skill set, according to Lewis, de-mining and TCCC practices are important to the South Sudanese people.
"De-mining is a very simple process. It's mainly paying attention to what you're doing," Lewis said. "Due to their years of war, the armies mined the country. Then the war ended, and people were stepping on land mines. If something does happen, these soldiers will know what they're doing."
During the three-week partner effort, instructors covered a variety of topics, ranging from open and closed fractures to knot tying to basic ordnance disposal practices; but only after overcoming simple learning obstacles.
"Language was the biggest thing," Lewis said. "But, where language was a barrier, we showed them through hands-on, practical training. Nonverbals cross all language barriers. I was incredibly impressed with the soldiers' level of retention of the material and their willingness to learn."
Lewis recalled one SPLA soldier who successfully crossed these barriers.
"Corporal John Maciek only spoke the tribal language so he couldn't understand anything when we tried to do a test. He would try and draw the answers," Lewis said. "Once someone translated to him, he probably did the best out of everyone."
At the graduation ceremony, the SPLA's ranking soldier delivered his thanks for the opportunity to share best practices between the U.S. and SPLA.
"I want to extend my deepest thanks to USAFRICOM, the U.S. and its commanders," said SPLA Maj. Gen. Kiir Garang De Kuek, Engineer Corps commander. "The SPLA is in their infancy and trips like this are imperative to the growth of our country. Through help from [non-government organizations] we've de-mined a third of the country. Trips like these create the foundation for the country to become prosperous. We hope for a continued partnership with the U.S. to provide advanced training to the SPLA to increase effectiveness."