NEGRESTI, Moldova - The deadly ghosts of World War II, in the form of unexploded artillery shells, large aerial bombs, mortars and grenades have rested within the dark, fertile soil of the Republic of Moldova for almost 70 years. European Command’s Humanitarian Mine Action program (HMA) allows the Moldovan Army to rid the land of these hidden dangers once and for all.
For three weeks, Moldovan engineers and soldiers of North Carolina National Guard’s 430th Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Company trained side by side and shared the latest tactics, techniques and procedures in eliminating landmine hazards in order to return the land to productive economic use and development.
“Humanitarian Mine Action events like this are very good,” stated Maj. Adrian Efros, commander of the Moldovan Engineer Battalion in Negresti. “We have brought engineers and soldiers from the north, south and central regions of Moldova to train here with NCNG’s EOD team to become even better at our jobs.”
The country of Moldova was a major battleground in 1944 where Russian and German armies battled in two major offensives across the country.
“This is a serious business. Our country has many WWII unexploded munitions in the ground,” said Efros. “I am very happy with the HMA program. It will allow us to continue to protect the people and property of Moldova.”
The HMA training here was lead by the 430th, based in Washington, N.C. The unit has experienced EOD operators with multiple deployments and some members are explosive ordnance specialist in their civilian careers.
The North Carolina National Guard and Moldova have worked together, since 1995, through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP). 18 years of combined SPP events and exercises has formed an enduring bond between the two organizations and provides an ideal working environment to conduct HMA missions.
“I’m convinced that the strong partnership that North Carolina has with the Moldovans, and the HMA training conducted here, will result in a more robust demining operation in this country,” stated Capt. Chad Peele, commander of the 430th. “We are providing EOD Level One instruction consistent with international standards like; reconnaissance, personal and infrastructure protection, minefield safety and individual and team Battle Area Clearance procedures.”
The Moldovan Engineer Battalion was created during the Transnistrian conflict in the early 90’s. Members of the unit deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2008.
The Moldovan engineers are by no means “new recruits” who are inexperienced in conducting unexploded ordnance disposal missions. The Americans had plenty to learn from their counterparts during their three week stay.
The Moldovan Ministry of Defense reported that, in 2013, the Moldovan engineers were called out 133 times and safely disposed of over 1,800 pieces of ordnance. The engineer battalion reports that, since Jan. 2014, they have safely removed 192 pieces of unexploded ordnance.
In March 2014, in the town Ungheni, 110km northwest of Moldova’s capitol city, Chisinau, a construction crew unearthed one of the largest caches of unexploded WWII anti-tank, anti-personnel and artillery shells ever found. The city leadership immediately asked for assistance. The Moldovan engineers deployed to the location and safely removed and destroyed over 32 pieces of German munitions.
Mr. Alexandru Ambros, Mayor of Ungheni, had nothing but praise and respect for the engineers.
“The bombs were uncovered while digging a foundation for a new business in the middle of town. Many people could have been injured and homes nearby severely damaged. The engineers came to the site and safely removed and destroyed the munitions,” stated Ambros.
The Moldova HMA program will make the engineers even more effective in their duties to protect the citizens and property of Moldova.
One critical aspect to the HMA program is a public information and mine-awareness campaign.
“A large and significant part of our mission is to educate the civilian population on the real dangers in handling unexploded munitions,” stated Efros. “Moldovan engineers travel to schools and show children what types of ordnance are out there and what to do if they find one.”
During one such trip a young boy raised his hand and said that he had found what looked like a hand grenade in a field nearby. The Moldovan team immediately set out with the boy and safely disposed of a very old and extremely deadly hand grenade.
After three straight weeks of HMA training, the teams are ready to return to their home stations. The NCNG and Moldovan engineers are planning to meet again later this year to conduct more HMA events that will reinforce their skills as professional EOD operators and continue their mission in protecting the people and property of Moldova.
European Command’s HMA program provides partner nations events and equipment that develop indigenous infrastructure capable of eliminating landmine hazards, returning the land for economic use, education of the population on the hazards of landmines and explosive remnants of war and assisting landmine victims.
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