Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team Builds Relationships in Kenya

Lieutenant Junior Grade John Hayes wrote

Note: Lieutenant Hayes is assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa as an explosive ordnance disposal team leader. His team is conducting a Humanitarian Mine Assistance train-the-trainer course in Nairobi, Kenya.

NAIROBI, Kenya (October 16, 2010) — My team has been welcomed nicely by the Kenyan Defense Military students and instructors. We are wrapping up our second week of training. The first week we taught operational risk management, first aid, explosive ordnance disposal safety precautions, fuse functioning, and ordnance identification part I, which includes grenades, projectiles, rockets and projectile fuses. This week we taught ordnance ID part II, including bombs, bomb fuses, missiles, submunitions and dispensers, and also protective works, demolition firing systems and demolition materials.

It should be noted, however, that when I say “we” I do not exclusively refer to my team from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. While we are in Kenya, our team also consists of three instructors: Staff Sergeant Ernest Omoro Ogweno, Sergeant Simon Oguta Orinda, and Lance Corporal Japhter Magut from the Kenyan Army. This training course is the second time EOD has come from CJTF-HOA to participate in the train-the-trainer mission in Kenya.

This time there is a big emphasis on empowering and guiding the Kenyan instructors to teach as well. We have found that a combined front has worked best. Our routine has basically been to adapt a “you teach one, we teach one” approach, and it has worked very well with supporting the mission. Along these lines, this mission is the first time a CJTF-HOA EOD platoon has brought along a U.S. Army medic. Our medic, Specialist Austin Drake, taught the first aid portion of the course and could not have done a better job. He was eager to share his insights with the Kenyan students and taught them how to apply a tourniquet, a pressure dressing and a splint. He even demonstrated on KMOD Sergeant Stanley Muhindi Ndegwa the proper procedures for applying each of the mentioned procedures.

The students are not to go without mention in this account. Early on in the training my lead petty officer, Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Arrowsmith, noticed that the teaching was being met with a lot of resistance. It was not, we realize, due to a lack of desire to learn, but mostly because our students were not comfortable asking questions. While we had given short introductions on the first day, my LPO decided we needed to take time on the third day to fix the issue. We began by reintroducing ourselves to the class, but opened up our personal lives to them so they could relate to us. We drew a map of the United States on the board and indicated on the map where each of us was from, what we liked to do for fun, etc. After we opened ourselves up, they became more comfortable. Then we asked them to do the same thing. They each told us their full name, how far from Nairobi they were from, what their town is known for and if they had any hobbies.

While I cannot relay each and every response, they were very interesting. Our students range from living in Nairobi to up to 400 kilometers away. One of my students is affectionately called “the Sniper” because he graduated a marksman class the Kenyans run in two months, which four months earlier than the usual six-month course duration, because he had mastered each weapon they taught him and scored 100 percent on each test. He also comes from a village that does not believe in formal medicine and claims that he has never been sick his entire life because it is a practice in his village to drink cow’s blood.

After our personal discussion with the students, we noticed a marked change; our students were active learners who were no longer afraid to participate and ask intelligent questions. I have become known as “Afandi” which is their way of saying teacher and also one who outranks them. It has been very humbling, yet extremely rewarding when they insist on finding me each morning and one by one shake my hand as a sign of respect.

The students also regularly ask us questions about America and what it is like there. In our discussions, it has become interesting to know that we share most of the same principals and cultural views; the Kenyans are very forward thinking people and extremely optimistic about improving their country. They are also more tolerant than I had expected, although that was mostly due to my admitted ignorance of the Kenyan culture.

I was also pleased that Kenyans treat their women with respect and do not try to hide them or subject them to a lower status. Our student Lance Corporal Chelan’gat Belion is the first woman to go through this training. The first day the assistant commandant led a short procession which is in keeping with their practice of declaring a class open for training. In this procession, he acknowledged Belion and made it clear that in the eyes of the Humanitarian Peace Support School she is not a “female” but a “soldier” in the Kenyan Army. She has been a pleasure to work with and a brilliant young woman. She is very alert and receptive to our learning. At the conclusion of each lesson, I regularly see her helping her class mates with any problems they might be having. It is great that the other students treat her with respect. She also currently holds the highest grade point average in the class with a 98 percent.

The past two weeks have not been necessarily easy for the students though. We have been packing a lot of information into each class and it is difficult for them to learn in our language. The Kenyan instructors have been instrumental in relating some of our learning points into a more palatable form for them. We also gave a test and were a bit disappointed to discover that the average on it was 70 percent. However, after giving a review and remediating those who did poorly, there was a marked improvement when we had a retest. Next is a practical examination requiring them to demonstrate, with training aids, how to safely build up a non-electric and an electric firing system.

We are experimenting with a pass/fail system to avoid the pressure of a numbered score with the decision that after the examination, any failing grade recipients will be remediated and examined as many times as is necessary to make them successful.

The greatest pleasure for me so far, and I think I can speak for my team as a whole on this, is how we have all become students in this experience. Every day our students teach us words and phrases in Swahili. My lead petty officer especially has taken great effort to learn as much of their language as he can during his down time at the hotel. It has been a recurring theme we have as a team to make an effort to learn their culture and share and receive in their discussions.

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