UBON RATCHATHANI, Kingdom of Thailand --
As the bright sun raises from the edge of the earth and burns the ground, there is a new light briefly showing itself with the sound of thunder pounding across the earth’s surface.
“Shot two, standby,” yells Gunnery Sgt. Joel Visser, a platoon leader with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company and chief instructor of the humanitarian mine action courses in Thailand.
“Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole,” screams Sgt. Matthew Sponagle, an EOD technician with EOD Co., “Five… Four… Three… Two… One…”
Another deep, hollowing noise blows through the air. A large mushroom cloud billows in the sky.
During Cobra Gold 19, Marines with EOD Co., 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, assist the Royal Thai Armed Forces in disposing mines left over from insurgents and government forces.
Mines were placed on the Kingdom of Thailand’s borders with Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. On Dec. 3, 1997, the Kingdom of Thailand agreed to work towards being mine free by signing the Ottawa Treaty. Shortly thereafter in 1998, the Office of the Prime Minister of Thailand formed the Thai Mine Action Centre. Compiled of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, TMAC is dedicated to making the Kingdom of Thailand mine free.
Year-round U.S. Marines travel to the Kingdom of Thailand to help teach courses and demonstrate proper disposal techniques as part of an HMA mission.
“The Marines are excited to be here,” Visser explains. “Primarily because, among all the other missions that are going on in the world, this is one that we really feel is helping to change a country.”
The Royal Thai Armed Forces work all year to clear Thailand of landmines. During Cobra Gold 19, U.S. Marines and the Royal Thai Armed Forces were able to dispose of over 5,000 landmines in less than two weeks.
“This mission contributes to the safety of this country,” Visser states. “We are all excited to be here.”
HMA courses are just one of the ways Exercise Cobra Gold demonstrates the commitment of the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States to our long-standing alliance, promotes regional partnerships and advances security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.