I was drawn to this work as I knew I had a skill which could be used to save lives and make areas safer for children.
I grew up in Keighley, West Yorkshire in the UK, and still live there with my wife. I have two grown up daughters who live in the surrounding area. Having spent 23 years in the British armed forces serving as a Clearance Diver for the Royal Navy, I completed Explosive Ordnance Device (EOD) training jointly with the Army and carried out specialised training for underwater explosive hazards. Since leaving the military I have carried out similar work in South Sudan, Somalia, and Iraq.
Iraq society is moving forward in gender equality; the fact that we have mixed male and female Explosive Hazard First Responders courses is testament to that.
My work in Baghdad allows me to share my knowledge and experience of explosive hazards with the Iraqi police, ensuring they have the knowledge and skills to provide safe explosive hazard removal. By delivering training to the police and raising awareness of the threat posed by these items, the humanitarian community aims to reduce the number of fatalities and casualties in humanitarian mine action.
The training team consists of four international instructors, three national instructors and three translators. It’s divided between Explosive Hazard First Responder (EHFR) and EOD/IEDD.
A typical day for a trainer starts with a role call and then it’s straight into lessons. Due to the nature of these courses a vast majority of the training is practical and requires one-on-one instruction. A lot of preparation goes into the day’s training; i.e. lesson plans, the making of dummy IEDs and Hazards, and practical scenarios.
My work helps save lives and allows for children to be children and grow up in a safer environment.
During 2019 we successfully introduced and completed an Explosive Hazard First Responder course for female police officers. This course was extremely popular and the Iraqi Police report that students are volunteering to come on the course, which is something they have not seen before. More courses have been planned in 2020.
More women are involved in policing and the students we have taught are all very keen to expand their knowledge in both EOD and IEDD. Iraq society is moving forward in gender equality; the fact that we have mixed male and female Explosive Hazard First Responders courses is testament to that. The majority of high-ranking Police Officers I have met fully support female training.
I believe that clearance and education about Explosive Hazards is vital and have witnessed and dealt with the horrific aftermath that these hazards have caused. The clearance and teaching about hazards can become routine, but the reality is there are incidents daily. This was brought home to me in South Sudan while carrying out a routine clearance of a minefield. We had finished for the day and I had begun to write my daily report when I was informed of an explosion in a nearby village. I immediately attended the scene and was informed that 3 children had been injured. After clearing a way to the seat of the explosion I found the remnants of a cluster munition. All 3 children were killed; the oldest of these children was four. This incident and similar incidents really bring home to everyone involved in Explosive Hazards the importance of Clearance, Risk Education, and training.
I’m grateful that the knowledge I have gained in the military can be used in different parts of the world, whether it be clearance of mines and IEDDs or training. All of which saves lives and allows for children to be children and grow up in a safer environment. There are many challenges in my field of work, from the task itself or the administration required to get something done. We all want to deliver whether it be training, clearance, or risk education. You have to realise and accept you are working in another country with different rules and regulations. This is where other members of the team help.
My advice to others in this field would be: use your military and personal experience, but don’t compare Humanitarian work with military work. The two are miles apart. The second thing you will need to have is patience; remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.