JMRC troops train weapons inspectors for Syria mission
STUTTGART, Germany — At the U.S. Army’s training grounds in Hohenfels, Syria-bound weapons inspectors are getting a crash course in combat zone safety courtesy of U.S. troops, who are advising the civilian inspectors on the range of threats they could encounter in the war-torn country.
About 25 inspectors from The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons made the trip to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels for three days of hostile environment training.
“We have people all over the world, and not all of those places are the safest environment to work in,” said Hans DeJong, a member of the organization’s team visiting Hohenfels. “These inspectors are going to be sent to Syria and other places.”
The training involves everything from learning how to identify roadside bombs to distinguishing indirect from direct fire. First responder medical skills are also part of the training. For civilian weapons inspector teams, such exercises have become a key part of pre-deployment preparations, DeJong said.
“What we’re finding out here (in Hohenfels) is how to operate in a dangerous environment,” DeJong said. “We’re trying to assess dangerous situations. We’re learning how to dress wounds. It’s all very helpful.”
DeJong, however, declined to comment on the ongoing operations in Syria, where a civil war has raged for more than two years.
Commanders at the JMRC said the key to the training at Hohenfels is replicating the kinds of potential hostilities inspectors could encounter in hot spots like Syria.
“Their primary task as inspectors is risky enough. We’re trying to help them be aware of the other potential risks,” said Col. John Norris, commander of the JMRC.
Since 1997, 5,286 inspections have taken place at 228 chemical-weapon-related sites and 1,905 industrial sites around the world, according to OPCW.
OPCW experts have been on the ground in Syria since Oct. 1. The group, tasked with verifying the elimination of chemical weapons, serves as the world’s watchdog for the global ban on chemical weapons.
On Tuesday, Army trainers had the OPCW inspectors working on tactics for evading roadside bombs and learning about the different designs of such devices. By foot and vehicle, they worked their way through lanes of fake improvised explosive devices.
“We want to train them for any event, especially when something bad happens,” said Lt. Col. Mitchell O. Watkins, a senior trainer at the JMRC.
The Army in Europe began ramping up training plans for weapons inspectors soon after Syria agreed in September to give up its chemical weapons and submit to inspections. All chemical weapons are to be transported out of Syria for destruction by June 2014, an ambitious timeline, according to OPCW officials.
“Never in the history of our organization have we been called on to verify a destruction program within such short time frames — and in an ongoing conflict,” said OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü in an October speech.
Norris said he expects more weapons inspector teams to be coming through Hohenfels in the weeks ahead.
While the primary mission at the Army’s training centers in Hohenfels and Grafenwöhr is preparing U.S. and partner nations to conduct joint military operations, Norris said the training of civilian weapons inspectors is an additional area where the Army can contribute to U.S. security interests abroad.
“I think this represents the diversity and the capability of the JMTC (Joint Multinational Training Command) and the JMRC,” Norris said. “We have a vital mission and our capabilities are pretty much endless. I think we’re contributing to our national security strategy.”