CAMP SINGO, Uganda — As they listen to the countdown, the team braces themselves, one behind the other, for the blast. U.S. Marines and Uganda People's Defense Force soldiers blow though obstacles together during their final weeks of basic demolition training, from the months of November through December 2015.
Explosive ordnance disposal technicians with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa began teaching the UPDF soldiers in October and will wrap up training in the coming weeks.
All logistics and engineering students went through improvised explosive device awareness training before learning about explosives. After covering various types of explosives and effects, the students worked through an improvised explosive device lanes where they were responsible for searching for, identifying and reacting to possible IEDs.
This training comes at a time when the UPDF are seeing their enemy use IED tactics. Earlier this summer, an African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, press release reported terrorist group Al-Shabaab used a vehicle-borne IED to gain forceful entry into an AMISOM base in Janaale, Somalia, where UPDF soldiers are deployed to. A firefight ensued.
"With the current threat in Somalia, [the UPDF] asked us to teach basic IED awareness so they can better identify IEDs before they become an issue to the troops," said Staff Sgt. Evan Crowgey, an EOD technician and chief instructor.
Students in the basic demolition course have received hands-on training with explosives, learning how to handle and employ different types of explosives.
"We are showing them how to use explosives in either a tactical or a non-tactical environment," Crowgey said.
During their first range, students built different types of charges and saw the direct effect of blasting caps, detonation cord, C4 and TNT. Recently the Marines and UPDF conducted a breaching range learning how to clear obstacles out of the way to include a doorway, wall, concrete, berm or razor wire.
"On the battlefield, they might be able to use demolition to either gain entry to a compound or a building. We are teaching basic breaching concepts and principles in order for them to enter a room or compound using explosives," said Crowgey. "This could be a dynamic entry, a raid on a compound where the element of surprise is key in order to eliminate the threat on the inside, or if there is an obstacle, berm or any other structure in their way. They will have the knowledge in order to remove it."
These basic demolition and breaching skills open up opportunities for soldiers to go where they could not before.
"In case we go to Somalia, it can help us because if there is an obstacle where our troops want to go through, we can penetrate into that obstacle," said Pvt. Denis Kakieesa, a UPDF soldier in the course.
The most recent group of UPDF soldiers arrived in Somalia in early November as they continue to conduct peacekeeping operations for the African Union Mission in Somalia.
"What we have learned will help our troops through any situation," said Kakieesa.
With no students having experience in handling explosives, according to Crowgey, they have taken a step in the right direction.
"My goal for these students is that they can go out and either execute a range safely and effectively or employ explosive material on the battlefield," Crowgey said. "Now they can go out there, operate and use what we have taught them effectively in the field.
The security cooperation team with SPMAGTF-CR-AF is also training the UPDF in other logistical and engineering specialties to improve the Ugandan's capabilities as they continue their commitment to AMISOM.