The United States is proud to support the development of an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) capacity within the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. Since 2011, the Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) has invested over $5.1 million for the development of a national EOD capacity in the Solomon Islands and the support for unexploded ordnance (UXO) removal. This is part of a broader regional effort to mitigate the residual impacts of World War II-era UXO across the Pacific. Thanks to training by the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force has achieved regional recognition for their expertise in handling and disposing of WWII-era munitions. U.S. Ambassador Ebert-Gray celebrated the culmination of these efforts on February 12, 2019, when she awarded Explosive Ordnance Disposal Level III certifications to eight members of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
Their EOD team has been recognized as highly capable during Operation Render Safe Missions, a series of Australian Defense Force-led operations that aim to clear explosive remnants of war from the Solomon Islands. The success of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force team shows that it is now not only a national asset for the Solomon Islands but is also well-positioned to share its expertise with other Pacific Island nations that suffer from UXO contamination.
PM/WRA’s Aimee Falkum, Assistant Program Manager for East Asia and the Pacific, and Navy Lieutenant Commander Daniel Bailey, PM/WRA’s EOD Technical Advisor, visited Guadalcanal to observe their EOD team’s operations at the Hells Point Facility in 2018. Hells Point, a former staging area for munitions and ordnance during WWII, has been highly contaminated since a large brush fire in 1943 scattered hazardous items across the surrounding area. To this day, the area contains some of the most highly contaminated land in the Solomon Islands. The threat of “fish-bombers,” who illegally harvest explosive material from UXO at Hells Point for illicit fishing operations, presents a particular urgency in efforts to clear and secure the area as well.
As part of their EOD training, police force members have been working systematically to clear the area of hazardous items while simultaneously serving as their nation’s only dedicated EOD response force when citizens call in to report found UXO. Local communities have recognized the police force’s growing prominence. Now, whenever the conduct a high-visibility EOD task, reports of additional UXO dramatically increase. During Ms. Falkum’s visit, she directly observed the many capabilities of the team during a munitions identification class taught by one of the officers. The ability to teach render safe procedures, identification, and planning of ordnance disposal are vital competencies of the EOD Level III certification, and the police force team members take turns teaching classes on items found at Hell’s Point.
They have also developed the capacity to respond to reports of underwater ordnance, x-ray unknown ordnance, deploy a mechanical bomb-cutting capability, manage several munitions disposal pits, and respond to reports of UXO found all around the Solomon Islands.
Of the 14-member EOD team, eight are graduating at EOD Level III, according to the International Mine Action Standards. Last year, the entire EOD team carried out an assessment based on Level II skills and several EOD-based presentations. The completion of these tasks allowed for eight members to advance as potential Level III candidates. Advanced EOD theory and hands-on practical classes were conducted over the past year on low-order bomb entry techniques, linear shaped cutting charges, bomb scene management, protective works, blast and fragmentation theory and calculations, risk analysis, and other subjects. These hard-earned qualifications demonstrate an increased capacity for them to respond and utilize more advanced EOD skills to more quickly and efficiently carry out their UXO workload.
EOD Level III certification is a major accomplishment in an individual’s professional career, as it entails mastering the many moving parts required for particular response tasks. It is essential for officers to demonstrate competency in a wide array of skills, to include: UXO identification, planning operations, leading briefings, stakeholder engagement with outside agencies (e.g., Fire Service, Hospital), identification of public services that could suffer damage (power, gas, water, telecommunications), planning protective measures to negate and reduce damage, selecting the correct course of EOD techniques, and above all – safety. Each candidate has demonstrated the render safe procedures with live UXO, and many of these incidents have attracted the attention of national media. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Houenipwela even thanked the team for a job well done after they rendered safe a massive bomb that was found in the middle of the capital city, Honiara.
Golden West staff certified the EOD team’s successful completion of the render safe procedures and celebrated the successful graduation of the eight members of the EOD team at Level III. The Department of State congratulates these officers for their perseverance during the rigorous training, and encourages the philosophy that EOD is always a learning process. PM/WRA also recognizes the contributions of the six members who remain certified at Level II and commends their contributions towards the team’s training and continued professionalism.
About the Author: Aimee Falkum is the Assistant Program Manager for East Asia and Pacific in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.