News: US, Singapore experts engage
Story by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl
SINGAPORE – “Country Red is in turmoil,” The speakers barked. “Economic crises have caused its citizens to lose confidence in their government, investors are leaving the country. In response the governments of the United States and Singapore have created a joint task force to bring stability to this nation.”
The speakers cut and two Singaporean soldiers approach a suspicious bag. One immediately falls unconscious.
Country red doesn’t exist, but the demonstration represents something real. These soldiers are part of a Explosive Ordinance Disposal and Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear subject matter expert exchange on Seletar Camp, in Singapore. A partnership of each nation’s brightest and best.
The event would last from Nov. 29 to Dec. 7, but the effects would last much longer.
“We’re here to build interoperability between our nations and learn from each other,” Lt. Col. Jeffrey Winston, CBRN Chief, Unites States Army Pacific.
Singapore, a dense city-state of 5 million people, situated on the Straights of Malacca, one of the world’s most travel waterways accounting for a quarter of all internationally traded goods, sits at the westernmost point of the Pacific. A gateway between the Indian and the Pacific Ocean its stands as a unique geographical position represented in its diversity of people - Chinese, Indian, and Malay. The Singaporean soldiers from the 36th and 39th Singaporean Combat Engineer Battalions, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives Defense Group, represent a greater civic identity - much like the dozen U.S. soldiers on the exchange.
These soldiers part of the 71st Chemical Company, 8th Military Police Brigade and the 74th Ordinance Company (EOD), 303rd Ordinance Battalion (EOD), 45th Sustainment Brigade, both from Hawaii, represent places from the Dominican Republic, Chicago, rural New Mexico and California - for many, their first time out of the U.S. and for all, their first time in Singapore.
The demonstration continues. Sirens begin to blare, a half a dozen emergency vehicles role onto the scene. The joint U.S.-Singapore team commanders discuss survey the scene as they discuss a plan of attack, a mobile medical response team donned with gas masks and chemical protection suits rush out and rescue the two Singaporean soldiers who fell ill and immediately decontaminate them.
The Joint team then makes their move on the scene. They send in EOD. Armed with robots and protective suits they make their approach.
Earlier in the week, the U.S. 74th EOD soldiers and Singaporean 36 SCE EOD teams developed scenarios for each team to demonstrate their capabilities. While both skilled and world leaders in ordinance disposal, the teams have slightly different backgrounds.
Ten years of warfare has brought a more expeditionary set of skills to the U.S. soldiers, while the urban, densely populated nation of Singapore allowed their soldiers develop a knack for operating in tight spaces.
“Expeditionary style isn’t foreign to them but it’s something they don’t train as often as we do,” said Staff Sgt Christian Fairbairn, squad leader 74th EOD. “But the cool thing about EOD is rarely is there one way to do it.”
He continued to say the Singaporean method of questioning that developed in their urban environment shone through in their ability in understanding how to approach a bomb that they moments ago knew nothing about. A level of discussion he pushes out to the soldiers of his squad.
“Always put forth your plans of attack, always state your opinion, the more views you have on countering a UXO, the more successful you’ll be, said Fairbairn.”
And put out their plan of attack they did as both teams were successful in their scenarios. One focused on robotics and one dismounted on foot.
As the EOD team leaves the scene, neutralizing potential explosive hazards. The joint US-Singaporean Task force calls on their CBRN element to assess the scene. Donned in protective suits and armed with sampling and identification, the three man team approaches the scene. The joint team needs to learn what they are up against.
Much like their EOD counterparts the 71st Chem. and the 39th SCE represent the best in CBRN response. The 71st Chem. made up of veterans of the Nuclear response to the Tsunami in Japan, Operations Iraqi Freedom and currently lead testers for equipment that may change 60 years of CBRN doctrine, they are at the forefront of expeditionary CBRN. While the Singaporean CBRN much like their EOD counterparts gear themselves toward the tight spaces of their city. Their vehicles double as transportation and mobile decontamination lines, and each team is capable of approaching every step of CBRN response from surveying to sampling.
They also developed scenarios for each other to demonstrate their capabilities. The Singaporeans undertook a nuclear scenario, while the U.S. team responded to an unknown biological threat.
Temperature wise, Singapore and Hawaii are similar but with heavy humidity, Staff Sgt. Brent Wells, squad leader, 71st Chem. felt the heat in their specialized plastic coated, unbreathable Level A suits.
“We had to get acclimated to the heat,” said Wells, “But once we got rolling it we were able to integrate with the Singaporeans.”
Drenched with sweat after their scenarios Wells added they all learned a great deal from each other.
“They do some things the same, some things differently, but they had a wealth of knowledge and we definitely benefited from learning each other techniques and procedures,” said Wells.
As the CBRN team leaves the scene and puts a sample into a mobile lab, The scenario ends. Country Red is safe. A voice on the loudspeaker thanks the audience of CBRN representatives of more than 140 nations for watching. But while the world was able to see the capability of the Singaporean and U.S. teams firsthand.
The soldiers, the subject matter experts didn’t just demonstrate their knowledge of their craft, but the nature of their respective nations.
“The uniforms may be different, our backgrounds may be different, but no matter how different we are, we’re all very alike - we’re trying to get the job done,” said Fairbairn.
The U.S.’ pivot to the Pacific may be closer to a dance with its partners in step.