Remarks by Colonel Tippins at the Cambodian Mine Action Center Dive Training Closing Ceremony and Humanitarian Mine Action Equipment Turnover Ceremony

(As Prepared for Delivery)
July 24, 2015

His Excellency Heng Ratana, Director General of the Cambodian Mine Action Center; Mr. Allen Tan, Golden West Humanitarian Foundation representative, and other distinguished members of the Cambodian mine action community, good morning. I deeply value the opportunity to represent the U.S. partnership with Cambodia in the work of making the country safe from mines and other explosive remnants of war, so I thank you very much for inviting me here today. History has taught each of us that sometimes, the most difficult challenges can bring people together. By challenges, I am referring to the tens of thousands of land mines and other explosives that endanger the lives of innocent villagers. As a soldier, I especially hate war as I know its terrible costs for servicemen, servicewomen and their loved ones.

In our modern era, many of the world’s former battlefields have remained littered with sophisticated bombs, mines, and explosives that still pose an imminent danger, even though peace has returned and their deadly purpose has passed. Not too long ago, Cambodia found itself at this point in its history, an explosive-saturated land after years of conflict. To address this legacy, however, the men and women of the Cambodian Mine Action Center have come forward to clear the explosive remnants of war and to return the land to the people of Cambodia.

I am referring to the Cambodian Mine Action Center technicians who put others before themselves, who make it their lives work to go into very dangerous situations to ensure the safety of other people. For many at the Cambodian Mine Action Center, that means going into the field to look for mines and other explosive remnants of war while carrying heavy protective gear and detection equipment. On any day in Cambodia, much less the warmest days of the summer, this is hot, hazardous, and exhausting work.

Among all the brave and dedicated professionals we have here at the Cambodian Mine Action Center, we have a special group that I would like to recognize: the dive team. Clearing explosive remnants of war on land is already dangerous, but to move the whole enterprise underwater—where you cannot take your next breath for granted and murky water might not allow you to see—increases the risks exponentially. Although the team started out only two years ago with no dive experience and a brief initial training period, by May of this year they incredibly demonstrated their expertise by raising a Mark 82 bomb from the bottom of the Mekong River and bringing it to shore, where Golden West Humanitarian Foundation-supported Explosive Harvesting Program representatives and Cambodian Mine Action Center personnel disabled it.

The demonstrated commitment and skills of the Cambodian Mine Action Center dive team have earned praise from underwater demining specialists from the United States Government who have proudly supported the dive team since its establishment. We are pleased to have most recently provided the Cambodian Mine Action Center dive team with the new Humanitarian Mine Action Underwater Explosive Remnants of War Detection System, or HUEDS, which will improve its capability to make the waters of Cambodia safe. The U.S. military’s partnership with the Cambodian Mine Action Center will continue, with underwater survey techniques, proper health care for divers, and equipment maintenance procedures being some of the subjects of future engagements.

I would like to conclude by saluting His Excellency Heng Ratana and the members of the Cambodian Mine Action Center for protecting Cambodians from the explosive remnants of war that still endanger the people here. The United States Government proudly partners with you through the work of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, the Department of Defense Humanitarian Mine Action program, and the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation. On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, I want to assure you that your important work, while done many kilometers away from the United States, is nonetheless close to the hearts of many Americans, and our admiration and support will continue. Thank you very much.