PATTAYA, THAILAND -- An experienced Explosive Ordnance Disposal team from the Washington National Guard lent its hand to Thailand during a weeklong subject matter exchange seminar covering improvised explosive device identification, search procedures, and the knowledge to handle incident command in IED situations.
The Washington National Guard is part of the State Partnership Program, which matches up U.S. states with foreign countries.
“Washington State has been doing the state partnership program for about seven years. Units like CST (civil support team), medical, Seattle fire and Tacoma security provide HAZMAT training, medical training, blast trauma, CLS (combat life saving) classes, etc. We focus on the IED and explosive threat.” Said Sgt. 1st Class Adam Matuska, the operations noncommissioned officer for the 741st EOD Battalion.
The Washington National Guard EOD team has supported joint military and civil operations in Thailand seven times since 2007. Members of the 319th EOD Company and 741st EOD Battalion rotate going to Thailand, providing IED seminars and real-life scenarios.
Thailand has been embattled in an IED war in their southern provinces for many years, making this type of exchange incredibly beneficial for both sides.
“Down south there are three provinces that are having a lot of problems with IEDs,” said Matuska, who works full time for the Washington National Guard. “There’s a Muslim group of Thais who want to separate from Thailand and form their own country. There’s actually more IEDs strikes that have occurred in southern Thailand than in Afghanistan. So it’s just a matter of time before those IEDs start coming up north, like into Bangkok or Pattaya.”
Thai Muslims have waged war using mainly homemade IEDs targeted against the Thai Buddhists.
“It’s a radical Islamic insurgency that started separating in about October 2001 and began utilizing IEDs in the summer and fall of 2003, and has grown in lethality ever since.” said 1st Lt. A. Johnson, the company commander of the 319th.
“Knowing that there is the threat in the south, larger than Afghanistan only a few hours from here, they are eager to learn about IEDs, how to search for IEDs and safely react to the IED threat. So we decided to create this course in conjunction with Col. Parinya Chaililok, the Thai national security coordinator for this region,” said Johnson.
“They have limited training in areas with equipment and techniques, so we bring over our experience in that area and share it with them and give them an opportunity to practice it before they go down to the southern regions,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mel Young, the operations noncommissioned officer for the 319th.
In the past, the team has worked with various agencies including Thai military, police, security EOD teams, emergency managers and other government personnel. On this trip, they are mostly focusing on employees from the Port of Laem Chabang. The Port of Laem Chabang is the biggest port in Thailand and provides services and docking for international shipping, cruise ships, and U.S. naval ships.
“Between the federal government and the state, they recognize that there is a need to support Thailand in this way because we have operations over here, like Cobra Gold (A six-week exercise conducted every year involving U.S. troops), so as long as you have U.S. forces over here it benefits the U.S. to help these host governments to improve their security. The bottom line is that it saves U.S. lives. It improves the security for our soldiers,” added Young, a full time Guard member.
The Washington team provides the Thais with a wide variety of IED training and gears the training toward their particular audience. While there are some EOD personnel present, the majority of the participants are first responders from the port and surrounding areas including policemen, firemen and security personnel. The team focuses on searches of buildings, vehicles and roadside terrain. Participants are taught what to look for, how to react, situational awareness, how to perform an effective incident evaluation and prepare for EOD support during an IED or suspicious item incident, first aid for blast injuries, working as a team and dealing with the media. In many respects the Thais are better aware now of IED threats than their U.S. Port counterparts.
“We start out the seminar with classroom instruction, PowerPoint, a kind of walkthrough introducing concepts,” said Matuska, who has been to Thailand five times before.
The team then sets up various scenarios for the participants to handle, involving IEDs, suspicious packages and people and performing security search sweeps for dignitary visits.
“We just try to change some of their thinking or give them new ideas on how they can do things. At the same time, we’re learning a lot from them. Some of the ways they come up with things are very ingenious,” said Sgt. Morgan Wilson of the 319th.
Many of the Thais have attended several seminars put on by the EOD team. Lerthai Intachit, an inspector at the port and team leader for the department of fire has attended the Washington National Guard EOD seminar twice before.
“If one day something happens I will know how to respond, how to act. I can set up a contingency plan before calling EOD,” he said
There are three EOD units in Chonburi Province, where the port is located. The closest one is an hour away, so actions taken by first responders are very important.
For some, this is their first seminar and they are very eager to learn.
“I want to learn about identifying IEDs, explosive devices, searching, management and how to react when I see an explosive. Also, what type of explosives there are and their level of effectiveness for risk and vulnerability assessments on building protection. For this kind of thing, it is important to have experts and I believe the instructors have expertise in these things and new technology and knowledge of explosives,” said Jirayut Saart, a security guard at the port gas storage facility.
He also sought to gain experience from other Thais attending the seminar, many of whom have dealt with the IED tragedies in the southern provinces.
Col. Piyapan Cheeranont, a surgeon and professor with the Thai army, spent 15 months in two of the southern provinces helping IED victims. The training he receives at the EOD seminar will directly affect how those victims receive care in the future.
“I want security for my hospital. I want to collect knowledge about IED protection. [In the south] there are problems with secondary IED attacks meant for EMTs trying to help. We need a safe way for the EMTs to help victims. We need to find measures to decrease the threat,” he said.
Weerawat Yaowabut, an EOD technician with the Airport of Thailand also understands the need for IED training for the southern regions. “EOD is our life. We have to do it, especially for those people in the south. They go to the market to buy food and are hit by IEDs. We want to learn some of that, like disarming bombs.”
“The Thais are very intelligent people, but they’re very short on equipment,” said Wilson, who has been an EOD technician for six years. “We try to bring down what we can, or we’ll go out and buy things; ropes, hooks, different things they can use during training, so they can get the full use of the training.”
The Thais also have a lot to offer the American team.
“They bring their experience from here, especially the EOD folks from the south,” said Matuska.
The Thai EOD teams deal more with homemade explosives and motorcycle IEDs versus military ordnance based IEDs and Car Bombs, which benefits the Washington team’s knowledge.
Thailand also serves as a guide for the U.S. EOD community to learn from.
“The insurgency is able to sustain this [IED fight in the south] in a society that is very controlled,” said Johnson. “It’s not the Wild West, it’s not a war zone that was suddenly devoid of a government and police force so they could build these cells from within. They developed this from within a stable society, that’s been peaceful for a long time. That’s the model we look at, because that’s the model which will probably replicate itself in the United States.”
“As we have lessons learned from Thailand, we’re able to take that back to Washington State and bring it to the Washington State first responders as well,” he added.
At the end of the weeklong seminar, the Thai participants treated the American team to a farewell get together to show their appreciation. The bond forged between these two groups over the past week and previous trips are obvious as they share food, rituals and a karaoke microphone.
“There’s a real serious threat down south with the IED fight and insurgents. Especially working with the EOD folks, we’ve built a friendship with them and we understand what they’re going through,” said Matuska. “We try to lend a helping hand and provide our experiences to try to keep them alive, or at least better their chances and hopefully at some point they’ll get more funding, more robotics, armored vehicles, and EOD specific training. We hope to continue this partnership with Thailand.”