AL ASAD, Iraq -- Improvised explosive devices are currently the number one killer of coalition troops in Iraq, unexploded ordnance, or UXOs, are scattered throughout the country, and mines left over from the Gulf War still threaten the lives of our troops.
Despite the best efforts of combat engineers and Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians, Iraq is still littered with explosive hazards. Even recently, mines have been uncovered in various areas of the air base here.
With all of the hidden threats affecting operations, the military has been placing priority on training their troops to properly identify and avoid UXOs.
To fulfill this requirement, Explosive Hazards Awareness Training is being taught to all units currently deployed to Iraq.
"These weapons present a huge threat to our troops," said staff non-commissioned offer-in-charge, Staff Sgt. Eric T. Cline, EOD technician, EHAT Team. "It's important that they know how to deal with them."
Traveling throughout the country, the eight-member EHAT team is responsible for the training of all coalition troops currently serving in Iraq on the dangers of unexploded ordnance.
"We've been to nearly every base in Iraq," said Cline, a 31-year-old Ashland, Ohio, native. "We train hundreds of people each week."
The only EHAT team in Iraq, the small group has adjusted their mission slightly to train other units in the combat theater to conduct their own unit training.
"Because there are so many people, our classes are actually instructor classes," said Royal Australian Air Force officer, Squadron Leader Paul A. Muscat, explosive ordnance disposal technician, EHAT team. "They are specifically designed to train others how to pass on the information to their individual units."
Having 12 years of experience in EOD, 39-year-old Muscat has trained units from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.
"We're constantly on the road to teach these much needed lessons," said the Sydney, Australia native. "We hardly have time to ourselves, but it's important that we do this."
Not everyone who deploys to Iraq lacks knowledge about the threat of UXOs; military personnel arriving in country receive a briefing on the hazards the latent explosives present.
"Inbound troops receive induction training while in Kuwait," said Muscat, "but it's only a few hours long and there's a lot more than can be learned."
Eight hours a day and three days long, the intensive UXO course teaches future instructors about every type of UXO posing a threat to troops, including landmines, grenades, mortars, bombs, rockets and IEDs.
"We try to cover every aspect of the subject," said Cline. "Anything can happen while out there and we want to make sure our troops are ready."
To ensure their proficiency in the subject, the students are required to take a written and visual test.
"They need to be able to visually identify UXOs by type and category," said Cline. "We also test them on their ability to teach the subject to others."
For troops constantly tasked with conducting missions in unfamiliar locations throughout Iraq where UXOs may exist, the training has become invaluable.
"I got a lot more than I thought I would from this course," said 22-yer-old Lilburn, Ga., native Lance Cpl. Thomas M. Holmes, combat engineer, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. "Now I feel confident that I can go and teach my unit some of what I learned."