Clearing explosives in Syria with US Special Operations Forces and a local nonprofit
Last fall, I was enjoying a quiet hike in a mountain forest in northern Lebanon. As I crested a particularly troublesome hill, I was expecting a lovely vista as my reward. Instead, I was greeted by a ruby-red sign leaning miserably, it seemed, against a thorny bush.
“No Entry,” it alerted me in fading white letters. “This area is suspected of containing landmines and other explosive hazards.” The juxtaposition of oh-so pristine a setting with the fact that remnants of war were lurking just ahead, patiently waiting to kill or maim, perplexed more than disappointed me.
It was not the first time I have encountered buried explosive devices and minefields. As a soldier serving in Kosovo two decades ago, my squad would occasionally have to navigate around known minefields during foot patrols in the mountainous border region. In 2004, while serving in Iraq, improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, wounded many fellow soldiers in my infantry company. Seeing locals on crutches, a leg missing, was not uncommon during my tour in Afghanistan.
I turned around and took a different trail. But what if that sign was not there? What if I kept going? How many people are harmed by such explosives in Lebanon every year? In the Middle East? Worldwide? Encounters like this demonstrate the real-life impact of those statistics.
Two months after that hike, I was on a call with a US Army officer in Syria discussing how Spirit of America can assist security and stability when she mentioned the Roj Mine Control Organization (RMCO).
RMCO is a humanitarian mine clearance organization operating mainly in northeast Syria. Their teams fan out across a land scarred by war, finding and eliminating explosives; it’s dangerous but necessary work. Because of groups like RMCO, people can return to their homes, children can play freely, shepherds can feed their flocks, and life can begin returning to normal. These are things that the US wants to see.
In the fall of 2017, I implemented a project to provide metal detectors and engineering tools for RMCO.
Now, three years later, RMCO is still digging bombs from Syrian soil with assistance from the US military. Seeking to expand their operations, RMCO is looking to open a new office in Deir ez-Zor Governorate, where many US troops are operating. By helping RMCO, we unquestionably save Syrian lives and support the US mission in Syria.
In collaboration with US Special Operations Forces, Spirit of America will help RMCO expand its operations to Deir ez-Zor. We will provide:
- Equipment and supplies for a properly functioning headquarters: laptops, monitors, printers, power banks, projector, and a really big generator
- Tools necessary for safe field operations: two-way radios, tablets, protective gear, binoculars, GPS devices, flashlights, battery chargers, and, most importantly, top-line metal detectors
- One-month stipends for the entire organization as they secure additional funding
I’m fortunate enough to work on dozens of compelling initiatives in any given year. Not all projects are the same, however. To engage in work that helps restore some semblance of normalcy to people who have undeservingly suffered so much over the last decade is indeed gratifying. That work, not unlike a slanting ruby-red sign in a forest, is a stark reminder of the world’s many ills and the capacity of each of us to help right them.
We want to make Deir ez-Zor, Syria, a safer place. Help us.