U.S., Philippine Troops Fight Insurgent Bomb Threat
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
COTABATO, Philippines, Feb. 23, 2010 Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Stutzke looked over the rock quarry from a distance as three explosions boomed. Gathered around him was a team of Philippine army explosive ordnance disposal soldiers gleaming with pride from their work that briefly charred the clear afternoon sky.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Stutzke, right, shows Philippine explosive ordnance disposal soldiers how to prepare dynamite for a controlled detonation during a training event Feb. 20, 2010, in Cotabato, Philippines. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Just minutes before, Stutzke completed a training session for his Philippine counterparts and some U.S. Army soldiers on how to properly prepare dynamite for an electrically charged remote detonation. For the Philippine troops, the Feb. 20 exercise was an opportunity to conduct hands-on training with real explosives and basic EOD tools.
The Philippine troops train frequently to learn new techniques to dispose of roadside bombs and unexploded ordnance, despite not always having the resources to do so as effectively as they would like, Stutzke said.
However, the Philippine troops that Stutzke and his fellow sailors have worked with are very knowledgeable and motivated about their profession, he said. This is especially true for the EOD teams, as they are among the busiest and most at-risk soldiers in their force.
Forgotten ordnances -- or remnants of war, as U.S. troops from Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines here describe them -- are abundant after years of terrorist actions and past wars on Philippine soil. For this reason, competent and properly trained EOD troops are vital to the nation’s decades-long counterinsurgency fight.
Philippine EOD teams have found terrorist cache sites of explosives used for roadside, motorcycle and car bombs. Two U.S. Army Special Operations soldiers lost their lives to a roadside bomb in September, which was the deadliest attack on the American military here since 2002. Philippine troops are targeted on a weekly basis, however, often resulting in injuries or death.
“[Improvised explosive devices] are a significant threat, because they’re easy to make,” Stutzke said. “And training [the Philippine EOD soldiers] is very important, because there’s so much ordnance available in the region for insurgents to get their hands on. The best way to get rid of that threat is through joint training and disposals.”
U.S. EOD troops spend as much time as possible assisting and training their Philippine counterparts, and often lend them equipment such as metal detectors, which has led to some recent successes in the area.
Both militaries also work together educating the local populace on how to identify and report bombs and unexploded ordnance, said Stutzke, a native of Midland, Ga.
Stutzke recalled a recent situation that could have been fatal to the Philippine EOD troops. A grenade was reported in a public building, and the Philippine soldiers disarmed and disposed of it without a bomb suit or protective gear.
“They went up and did their job, and that’s how good they are,” he said. “That’s one thing not a lot of people realize: They’re very confident and efficient, and they have the knowledge.”
Philippine army Capt. Francis Senoron explained that the reason he and his troops are so effective is their dedication to support the national police and army here. Their experience goes a long way in making the streets safer for the populace, he said.
“We encountered our first car bomb in 2007, and we have dealt with motorcycle bombs and now command-wire detonated IEDs,” he explained. “Even though terrorists are training and doing new things, we’re still ahead of them and their technology and equipment.”
Senoron and his troops have encountered more than 100 bombs and unexploded ordnance since 2008, he said. He and many of his comrades have been injured multiple times, he said, but he added that security and protecting innocent civilians is more important than his own safety.
“The local populace is very supportive to our efforts,” he said. “We’ve conducted awareness programs for our civilians, so they know what to do if they find an IED. Because of our civilians, we’re able to accomplish our mission, and I hope this will continue in the future.”