At FSD Iraq, nearly nine out of ten employees are recruited and trained locally. Most knew nothing about mine clearance and had a whole different life prior to joining our teams. Some were teachers, farmers or housewives. Before finding themselves in the middle of a minefield with a metal detector in hand, these recruits follow detailed theoretical courses and execute numerous practical exercises under the watchful eye of our experts. Report on our last intensive training session in Iraq.
Last May, 41 Iraqis received their Level 1 Deminer diploma from FSD after a six week training course.The trainee deminers do not require any specific prior subject knowledge; they must be able to read and write and be in good physical condition. The students come from all walks of life and include both men and women. Some of them lived under Islamic State occupation and lost loved ones during the fighting. By becoming deminers, the objective of these men and women is often to stop the war claiming more victims through accidental explosions. FSD’s demining programme offers the trainees vital employment opportunities and the ability to develop of technical and leadership skills in a country where the economy has been severely impacted by years of armed conflict.
The first weeks of training are dedicated to tools, equipment, search and excavation techniques and emergency first aid. This part of the training focuses on removing more conventional explosive devices, such as antipersonnel and antivehicle mines and unexploded ordnance. In the later stages of the course, the trainers then explain to student deminers the specific features of improvised explosive devices, which were the preferred weapons of the Islamic State in Iraq.
A large section of the teaching is dedicated to practical exercises: visual and detector searches, vegetation removal, excavation techniques and medical evacuation procedures. All these techniques are repeated over and over again until they become second nature. For the deminers’ own safety, the process must be perfectly understood by every one of them before they are sent on their first task.
During the training, the students wear their personal protective equipment for the first time: a vest and visor designed to protect the body and eyes against fragments and the blast effect of any explosions. They also learn to use the equipment that they will have to carry around with them each day for their assigned tasks: a very sophisticated metal detector that is specifically designed for demining, a personal first aid kit and a tool bag. The tool bag contains a range of tools for cutting grass or vegetation, excavating explosive devices and marking the safe working area (ropes, tape and poles).
Students are also trained in the use of other types of metal detectors specially developed for detecting unexploded ordnance and exploding hazards buried deeply underground.
After receiving their diplomas, the new deminers are first integrated into an experienced clearance team so that they can gain confidence and benefit from on-the-job training. A few months later, they will go on to form new teams and will be deployed to new hazardous areas requiring clearance.
Demining is not an ordinary job. Sometimes it is only when newly qualified deminers arrive on the job, in the presence of real explosives, that they realize they are not made for such a profession. Consequently, FSD systematically trains more demining personnel than needed to make up for these departures.