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On Sunday the 27th April, the CMAC Dive Team participated in the annual Mekong River Swim to compete with some 120 entrants to cross the Mekong just north of Phnom Penh.

In February 2013 none of the team could swim with any proficiency, but thanks to the intensive training schedule with their Golden West Humanitarian Foundation Dive Technical Advisor Robert Rice they were able to compete with the best swimmers in Cambodia. The event consisted of a 800m crossing of the Mekong, competing against currents, waves and each other. The team each beat their personal bests for 800m by at least 3 minutes and received very respectable times.

To read more about the event, see the following links:

Mekong River Swim Webpage

Phnom Penh Post article

Golden West Humanitarian Foundation will be exhibiting at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC at the Walter E. Washington Convention Centre.

If you are at the Festival, we encourage you to drop by our stall at the National Security Pavilion, Hall B, State Department Section, Booth #1645. This is not similar to playing games in cool cat casino sites such as this http://www.coolcatcasinous.com/. We will have some of our training products on display as well as interactive activities for all ages.

Read more about the work that Golden West has been doing with assistance from the US Department of State on the official Department of State blog DIPnote here:

DIPNOTE

On the 3rd April, Golden West Humanitarian Foundation and CMAC hosted around one hundred delegates from the US embassy, the national press and mine action partners. The day marked the ceremonial opening of the CMAC Dive Unit and standing up of the CMAC Dive Team. It also provided an opportunity for Humanitarian Mine Action Organizations working in Cambodia to demonstrate their various initiatives in operation countrywide.

The event was held at CMAC and Golden West headquarters in Kampong Chnang. As well as representatives from the major mine action organizations, the day was graced with the presence of the U.S Ambassador, H.E William Todd, the Secretary General of CMAA, H.E Chum Bunrong and a number of other Excellencies.

The day started with speeches from Allen Tan (Country Director- Cambodia) H.E Heng Ratana (DG CMAC) H.E William Todd and finally H.E Chum Bunrong. The speeches highlighted the ever present need for humanitarian ERW clearance in Cambodia and praised the new capabilities that would be provided by Cambodia’s first UXO Salvage Dive Team. The speeches were followed with awards showing recognition from the country of Cambodia for US dignitaries and the following Golden West staff for their hard work in the process of creating the CMAC dive team: Allen Tan, Len Austin, Rob Rice, Marcel Durocher, Reaksmey Chan, Heang Sambo and Thong Khean.

Following the awards, the newly refitted Dive Building was opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony and the inaugural ringing of the Dive Unit Bell (donated by Golden West) by the dignitaries. After a brief tour of the impressive features of the dive unit, a press conference was held.

The delegates were then shown to demonstrations from NPA with the CMAC dog teams and the NPA Cluster Munition Survey team, MAG for the mechanical clearance demonstration, HALO for the HSTAMIDS detection demo and finally Golden West for an EHP tour. The US ambassador expressed great interest in the EHP recycling process and was even more impressed to see the results when he triggered the first demolition of the day, an anti-personnel landmine destroyed using the Golden West 100g Humanitarian Demining Charge. The second landmine was triggered by the young son of a United States Embassy employee, much to his and his father’s delight.

The pride and recognition of Cambodia for its first UXO Salvage Dive Team was made most apparent on the day and the festivities marked the occasion in a suitably impressive fashion.

Additional Information

Awards given to staff:

  • Allen Tan, Country Director- Cambodia : Royal Order of Sahametrei Commander
  • Len Austin, Chief of EOD Operations: Royal Order of Sahametrei Commander
  • Rob Rice, Chief of Dive Operations: Royal Order of Sahametrei Officer
  • Marcel Durocher, Chief of Detection Operations: Royal Order of Sahametrei Officer
  • Sambo Heang, Detection Operations Officer: Royal Order of Sowathra Officer
  • Thong Khean, EOD Operations Officer: Royal Order of Sowathra Officer
  • Reaksmey Chan, Senior Accounting Manager Asia Pacific: Royal Order of Sowathra Officer

Information Regarding awards:

Royal Order of Sahametrei
Cambodian Honours System

Event Coverage:

The Cambodia Daily
US Ambassador to Cambodia’s Blog

Golden West Humanitarian Foundation was featured on an episode of Channel News Asia’s “A Singaporean Abroad“. The episode centred on Pamela Yeo from the organisation Saught, that creates innovative jewellery from remnants of war. Saught receives its raw materials from Golden West Humanitarian Foundations  Explosive Harvesting Program and transforms them into pieces of jewellery. To find out more about Saught, visit their webpage

The Guadalcanal project commenced in May 2011 with the support of the US Department of State and the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) with the main goal being to work with the Solomon Islands Police Force to train and mentor their Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team to CEN IMAS Level II. It is now recognised as one of the premier EOD programs in the South Pacific.

Guadalcanal and the surrounding Solomon Islands were the scene of heavy conflict during World War II. The remnants of this conflict are widespread contamination of Unexploded Ordnance and the threat posed by these life-threatening munitions. These WWII munitions require specific training in order to locate and eliminate. As a result, the team have been trained for CEN International Standards tailored to WWII Munitions.The training for CEN IMAS Level II was completed and the whole team graduated on  1st August 2013.

The overarching aim of the project is to establish the EOD team and the Hell’s Point Range as a central UXO training facility for personnel from all UXO contaminated islands in the South Pacific. Personnel from all of the UXO/ERW contaminated islands within the South Pacific will be able to learn the most appropriate methods to locate and destroy WWII UXO hazards. In many cases this will allow UXO clearance in areas in which it was not possible due to a lack of trained personnel.

Hellspoint-4

Project Leader Mark Lasley, Golden West EOD supervisor is coordinating the training, disposal and infrastructure improvements on site. Lasley has operational experience of supervising EOD, Humanitarian Demining and IED operations across the world and is Master Level EOD. 

In addition to the primary goals of the project, there are a number of ancillary benefits to the work in the Solomon Islands.

    • The Hell’s point range has undergone substantial developments since May 2011, with improvement to the buildings and training facilities as well as the expansion of the equipment and training aids.
    • The training is also coupled with field operations. These operations have resulted in the location and elimination of 10,000 UXO and AXO hazards since the project began. The removal operations are conducted with Golden West’s Mobile Cutting System and Small Arms Burner.Guadalcanal-4

 

    • The project has been provided with a U.S Department of Defence Badger, a mechanical clearance tool that can vastly improve clearance and operational efficiency. The team is trained in both mechanical and manual clearance techniquesGuadalcanal-6
    • Providing public safety and EOD response within greater Honiara area. Golden West and RSIPF have been responding to EOD and public safety requirements on Guadalcanal. This has not only provided great benefit to the surrounding area but also raised awareness of the EOD team in the local community.Guadalcanal-11
    • Training members of the RSIPF EOD in training and mentoring methodologies. As well as training the team in WWII munition disposal, they are also being trained and tested in mentoring. Those that excel in these skills will go on to become the training officers; providing training to personnel from the surrounding islands in South Pacific.Guadalcanal-8

The Solomon Islands Project is made possible by the following donors:

DOS-Logo-smaller-whitbg PMWRA-Logo-smaller-square Ausaidsmaller JapanGrassRoots

Golden West has been working in cooperation with Villanova University in the United States. As part of the cooperation, Golden West has had the pleasure of hosting Villanova graduate engineer Stephen Schraer. Stephen has been working in the Golden West Design Lab, Cambodia to progress its UXO detection and clearance projects across Cambodia.

In addition to his work in Cambodia, Stephen has been working with the Villanova team on a low cost ordnance disposal robot, developed to provide a capability at a more affordable cost that can be maintained in the developing world.

In July, Golden West held its second Dive Refresher Course for the graduate divers from the CMAC Diver Preparation Course. The 10 CMAC Dive team divers were once again put through a number of exercises, testing their ability to work together as a working dive station, their physical fitness, swimming ability and proficiency in diving.

The week was one of turbulent seas and heavy rain off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. This however had an unlikely benefit for the training, producing a visibility level that emulated the working conditions they could expect in Cambodia’s waterways. When they reached the bottom, the visibility was less than half a meter, meaning that their procedures and teamwork was truly tested in these disorientating conditions.

Golden West Dive Refresher Course July

The team thrived in these conditions, working safely and efficiently in the hardest conditions they had yet experienced, impressing Dive Instructors Robert Rice and Tony Langer. The transition from the beginning of the Diver Preparation course in February to this course is truly impressive. Many of the team could not swim and are now swimming and diving to a high level of proficiency. The next training session is slated for September this year.

Golden West Dive Refresher Course July

On the 11th July 2013 Golden West, MAG, Cambodian Mine Action Centre, HALO and Sterling hosted U.S Embassy and PACCOM staff for a humanitarian mine action familiarisation day.

The day started with a tour of the Sterling EOD school at the Hun Sen Engineering Technical Institute and a demolition. Following this, they were taken to the RCAF Ammunition Supply Point to tour the inventory of discovered UXOs across the country.

The group then moved to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre training site in Kampong Chnang. There, the Director General of CMAC, Heng Ratana gave a country briefing on behalf of all US funded Humanitarian mine action groups. Next they were introduced to CMAC’s Mine Detection Dogs. These dog teams are used to detect the presence of mines in areas that are suspected of contamination. If detected, the clearance teams can remove the mines from the area.

Embassy visit-23

The next demonstration by HALO centred on mine detection using the HSTAMIDS dual sensor detector. This detector combines a metal detector and ground penetrating radar, increasing the efficiency of their demining operations greatly by differentiating between metal debris and landmines.

Embassy visit-13

MAG demonstrated vegetation clearance with their Nemesis ground preparation machine. A short demonstration was carried out that showcased its efficient clearance abilities. Once the obstructions are clear, mine detection and removal can begin.

Embassy visit-30

Golden West Humanitarian Foundation was next to exhibit, showing the guests their Explosive Harvesting Program. The EHP provides Cambodian Humanitarian Mine Action groups with explosive charges that have been specifically designed to destroy mines. Since its inception, the EHP has produced 300,000 humanitarian demining charges that have subsequently been used to destroy landmines and UXOs across Cambodia.

Embassy visit-41

The Explosive Harvesting System removes the explosive from stockpiled ordnance using an innovative process developed at our Research and Development centre in Cambodia. Once the explosive has been removed, it can be remanufactured and recast into the Golden West 100g Demining Charge.

The day was concluded with an explosive demonstration at the CMAC Controlled Demolition Site.

Golden West has produced over 300,000 humanitarian demining charges using its Explosive Harvesting System. Each one of these charges is made using recycled Unexploded Ordnance and is used to support humanitarian demining efforts in Cambodia. Each one of these charges will be used to destroy life threatening landmines or unexploded ordnance. To find out more about the Explosive Harvesting System visit the Engineered Solutions Page

Golden West Diver Preparation Course 2013.

February was a month of challenging firsts for the 35 Diver Candidates in the Diver Preparation Course. The volunteers, many of whom had no swimming experience, let alone acquaintance with scuba diving, would be whittled down to an elite group of 10 who would go on to form Cambodia’s first Salvage Dive Team specialising in locating and recovering Un-Exploded Ordnance (UXOs) from the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.

Cambodia’s inland waterways are estimated to be home to thousands of tons of explosives; legacies of the country’s troubled history. As they are, these munitions piles pose little threat to the public, but when disturbed, they have the potential to damage infrastructure, threaten national security and most importantly, put human life into jeopardy.

Diver Preparation Course-1

The main causes of disturbance are infrastructure changes and unauthorised salvage. The construction of bridges over the Mekong and the Tonle Sap are anticipated events, bringing benefits to inhabitants either side of the river and easing the load on the current bridges. The planning of their construction involves a comprehensive survey of the river bed to ensure that foundations will not be laid on top or near munitions. At present there is no national dive team that can undertake these surveys effectively and safely.

Unauthorised salvage is often instigated when fisherman, working with nets in the Cambodian waterways, discover munitions ships. The word is then spread to scrap merchants who mount salvage attempts to recover the shells that are rich in profitable scrap metal. The makeup of the riverbed can preserve metallic objects, so that discovered UXOs are often in as good a condition as recently manufactured munitions. The salvage attempts are a threat not only to the lives of the inexperienced workers but, if successful, to the security of the country when an unregulated supply of explosives are made available.

The Diver Preparation course is the culmination of many years of planning between the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation (GWHF) and the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), and was made possible through funding from the U.S. Department of State, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. The candidate pool was sourced from within CMAC on a volunteer basis. The Opening Ceremony on Monday 28th January set out the extent of the challenges that would take place over the following month.The 35 diver candidates listened intently to the opening speeches from Allen Tan (Course Director and General Manager of Golden West South-East Asia) Darren Hultman (Political/Economic Chief, US Embassy) and H.E. Oum Phumro (Deputy Director General, CMAC).

After being measured up for their dive gear and given their uniform for the next four weeks the diver candidates were introduced to a concept that would become very familiar to them: Physical Training (PT). The lead instructors of the course: Robert Rice, Tony Langer and Allen Tan, previously served with the U.S Navy, Australian Army and U.S Army respectively, meaning the course borrowed its core tenets from military training programs worldwide. An emphasis on physical fitness and mental discipline was maintained throughout the course. The reason being that these prove essential to operate effectively and safely as Salvage Divers in challenging environments.

The first PT session proved to be a demonstration of the diver candidates ever-present enthusiasm, drive and conversely, their room for improvement. Proceeding the first PT session a provocative question was posed by Allen Tan, “Who can swim the Mekong?”. Two bold members stepped forward and the rest remained firmly behind.

As the first pool session progressed, it was evident that the majority of the diver candidates had no experience of swimming and those that did, had no experience of efficient swimming strokes. This was made up for by their impressive determination, propelling them across the training pool by sheer strength and drive alone.

As Phase I progressed the diver candidates improved their swimming technique, were introduced to the fundamentals of Scuba; history, physics, equipment, hand signals and vocabulary, and showed visible improvement in physical fitness. By the end of Phase I, each diver candidate could swim four different strokes, use fins, mask and snorkel proficiently and had amassed knowledge of the foundations of Scuba Diving both in Khmer (their first language) and English.

The Phase I assessments would reduce the class size to proceed to Phase II, which would be held in Sihanoukville, on the coast of Cambodia. The diver candidates were assessed in the pool according to PADI Open Water requirements and tested on vocabulary, hand signals and scuba fundamentals. The instructors then had the difficult task of whittling down the impressive group of diver candidates to the required 20 for Phase II.

The successful diver candidates made the trip to Sihanoukville to begin their training to pass the PADI Open Water qualification; a prerequisite for a position on the Salvage Diver team. This week involved intensive pool training with full scuba gear and classroom sessions to educate them on the required knowledge for the Open Water Exam.