I work in Vietnam for MAG clearing landmines and bombs. I was recently in a popular video here with the actor who plays "The Most Interesting Man in the World". Many had technical questions about ordnance removal here. Ask Me Anything.
U.S. Combat operations ended here 40 years ago, but bombs left over from that conflict still injure and kill on a regular basis. Unexploded ordnance also block people's ability to use their own land to improve their lives. Mines Advisory Group has removed nearly 200,000 pieces of ordnance from Vietnamese soil.
This month Mines Advisory Group is partnering with Clear Path International in a campaign to raise awareness of this ongoing issue here and to raise funds to clear bombs and help victims of their accidents.
Here is the video I made with Jonathan last week
I am Chris Elliott Programme Officer for MAG here in Vietnam. Helping me today are Sean Wetherill, Technical Operations Manager and Portia Stratton, Vietnam Country Manager.
All of us at Clear Path and MAG are thrilled to see that REDDITGIFTS is helping to sponsor our efforts! Click here and purchase a t-shirt. Five dollars for every shirt sold goes to assist landmine and bomb accident survivors.
Ask us anything!
Thank you, Reddit! We are out of wine and have to work in the morning. This was a lot of fun. Please do like MAG and CPI on Facebook!
Thanks Jonathan! Great working with you too. unfortunatly, I'm not as interesting as you... can you give me some one liners?
Sure- obviously you need a beard, for starters.
But my beard is ginger... and thats not a good look
Which are (in general) harder to clear, UXO or mines?
Do any of the things you work with include anti-handling measures or other nasties (magnetic triggers, minimal metal content, etc)?
Do you do primarily controlled detonation, or manual suits&screwdrivers clearance? Pigsticks?
Any interesting up & coming tech that could be usefully applied to historic area remediation? (Bio/biomimetic sensing, ground-penetrating radar, better metals sensing, UAV/robotic platforms, etc)
Any dangerous or particularly persistent rumours/legends about UXO/mines that you've come across?
Do you think modern military capabilities to deploy auto-disarming mines, and to accurately map their deployment is sufficient safeguard, or should they be banned in their entirety, Ottowa-treaty style?
- No easy answer to that, some UXO (unexploded ordnance) is very unstable and difficult to safetly deal with i.e. certain cluster sub-munitions. Similarly, some landmines are much more dangerous than others, and the way they're laid is important (i.e. in rows or randomly).
- not really in Vietnam, but thee has been in other places i've working in like Sri Lanka.
- yes, primarily controlled demolitions - if the item is classified safe-to-move by MAG staff, we'll move them and do bulk dems like the one in the video. if it is decided theyre not safe to move, we'll destroy them where they sit
- One dangerous misconception is that UXO and landmines are no longer a problem in Vietnam - it's now a middle income country, and no further support is needed. This is wrong, Vietnam reamins one of the worlds most contaminated countries and there is still a lot of work to do.
- I think they should be banned in thier entirety
Would you rather remove one horse sized land mine, or 100 duck sized ones?
I'd rather we cleared one horse sized mine, because it'd be easier... but, morally, it would be better to clear 100 duck sized mines, because they'd cause more damage
I am also here helping Chris!!
We are here courtesy of Kathy... and we thank her very much
When I visited Cambodia the problem was very big there aswell, from the Khmer Rouge regime. Even so that we couldn't walk off the road on marked areas. Does your company operate In Cambodia aswell? I know it would be very beneficial for them aswell. I commend your hard work and your balls of steel for doing what you do
There is also a huge problem in Cambodia, and MAG also has a large programme there - Eastern Cambodia is also heavily contaminated with bombs dropped by the US during the US-Vietnam conflict, as well as the landmine contamination from the Kymer Rouge
You look familiar Chris - did you start out doing Mine Awareness in Cambodia?
I used to work as a Desk Officer for MAG Cambodia, so maybe...
I re-wrote the CMAG Mine Awareness Instructor Course back in 96 with a UNICEF rep named Joel. Were you around then?
No, I was 11yrs old... sorry!
What is the biggest bomb you have removed in Vietnam? (I work with Clear Path, but I am genuinely curious!)
I beleive the biggest bomb MAG's removed recently is a 16 inch projectile - which weighs over 750 pounds
where do you find these items - it has been so long since they were dropped?
Almost all the items we find are shown to us by villagers in the areas we work, they have the best knowledge of where bombs and other unexploded ordnance are since they've been living with them for 40 years
So the local people have known where these bombs are for a long time and they just don't have the resources to clear them?
Do they build fences around them or something?
Sometimes they know where they are, sometimes they get washed up after the rainy season, etc
People tend not to use the land if they suspect it to be contaminated (which is a big issue in one of the most densely populated countries in the world), or they take great risks to move them out of their way, since they have no other choice
Apparently there is some work in Tanzania training the giant pouched rat to detect land mines and other ordnance. Has anybody ever tried using those in Vietnam or approached you with that program? Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HeroRAT
The giant rats are used in certain contexts, where the contamination and geography are appropriate - I dont think they'd work in Vietnam, or most countries which have UXO or landmine contamination - APOPO are the organisation who use them
What does APOPO mean?
its a charity - not sure what it stands for
Do you use detection dogs? We made extensive use of them in Bosnia, and the results were pretty impressive - a good team could clear close to 1000 m2 in a day.
Not in Vietnam, but in other MAG programmes such as Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Iraq, etc - they are very effective, but only in certain contexts where there is sparse landmine contamination
What are your estimated success/failure rate for the average explosive? How many people have been lost or had the explosive go off?
It is estimated that between 10% - 30% of all the bombs dropped by the US did not detonate. MAG has never had an accident in Vietnam - touch wood...
Hello Chris. My name is Mr Burke. I have a proposition for you from my employer, Allistair Tenpenny. Are you interested in hearing more?
Mr Burke - you sound entriguing... tell me more!
Chris, my brother used to work a lot of demining operations in Northern Namibia in the late '90s and I was always amazed at how low tech it seemed to be. He would essentially use an armored front loader to sift a load of dirt through a screen, detonating any unexploded mines from a distance. If you had a wishlist of any thing or technology possible, price no object, what would be on that list to make your job easier/more effective?
money no object... it would be better detection equipment, for example you can get detectors which distinguish between dangerous/explosive items and scrap metal - but they are very expensive. It's more cost effective for us to have more teams with lower grade equipment
Can you mention some names of these expensive instruments? Do you think it'll be a good idea to ask rich people to buy these machines for you? Very ten people are ready to spend more money on charity if it buys something tangible where their name can be plated on..
It depends - clearance is all about getting the best value for money, so in some cases it may be more efficient to hire more staff with less sophisticated equipment. But yes, we have thought about it!
- How many years will it take to clear all the ordinance and mines?
- Is the vietnamese government working on this as well or is it just NGOs/charity organisations?
- Is there a specific geographic distribution to the explosives? I.e. are the bombs or mines evenly distributed over the country or are the certain regions where there are more bombs and mines? If so what are the worst hit regions?
- What is the best way to help you guys?
- depends on the funding, but it will take a very long time to clear everything, they still find thousands of items in Europe every year left over from the world wars. The aim is to make Vietnam 'impact free' from ordnance
- The vietnamese govt does a lot of clearance, but mainly for commercial and military reasons, rather than humanitarian reasons
- contamination is most dense in the central provices where MAG works
- donate to the campaign!
What does 'impact free' mean?
Sorry if this is a dumb question.
basically means that bombs and mines do not affect the everyday lives of people - they have no impact on peoples lives
How does someone with no military experience get a job with MAG? What kind of background do you need?
I've no military experience - so it's possible! Our headquarters is in Manchester, UK, so get in touch
Hi Chris. In the video there were a couple of guys prepping the bombs for demo by hand. What safety procedures have they observed beyond training if any? Or are they just insanely brave?
The items in the video are designated safe to move by experts, so MAG staff are fully trained in preping them for demolition - most of our staff have been working with MAG for over 10yrs and know what they're doing
Perhaps you can use this AMA to not only raise funds but also recruit help.
Does MAG bring in foreign EOD/UXO specialists from the US/UK/AUS to lead and train individuals and/or teams or is there enough local technical knowledge to accomplish the mission? I'm a former US Army EOD technician with post-Military UXO/demining work. I'm interested in perusing humanitarian work but not sure what the options are.
Vietnamese capacity is very strong, since people have been living with the problem for 40 years - we have only one international technical member of staff and the rest of our senior technical staff are vietamese. For MAG, a Vietnamese led process is more sustainable in the long term
What type of vehicle do you use to travel in uncleared areas? Is shrapnel a huge deal and if it is, what would you say is the minimum safe distance? Thanks for answering!
In most cases, the roads have already been cleared, so we do not have to use special veihcles for getting around. However, we do have JCBs and a CAT to clear vegitation in contaminated areas where its dangerous, and we armour them to ensure the safey of the drivers
Are there better methods of destroying the projectiles/mines other than blowing them up?
Not really, its the most efficient and safest way of removing items
How many people work your you in Vietnam? How do they get jobs with MAG?
We have 223 Vietnamese staff working for us, and there are 3 international staff. We're all from different backgrounds, with other charities or with the military. The Vietnamese staff are generally from the communities we work in
follow your tracks out of the minefield, or stay still and call for someone to come and get you
You're doing great work, in an awesome country.
Are you based in one location, or do you move around the country? Which areas are most heavily mined? How long have you been in country? Where has been your favourite place in Vietnam so far?
I live in Hanoi, but spend around half my time in the Provinces where we have our projects, of which Quang Tri was the most heavily bombed. I've been here around 8mths.. I really like the cenral region, but theres loads of places i havent been yet!
Have you any idea roughly how many bombs are left in Vietnam? What are the most dangerous areas?
Its estimated that between 300,000 and 800,000 tonnes of ordnance still remain in Vietnam, i.e. a lot of bombs! The most dangerous areas are in the central provinces, where the fighting was fiercest during the conflict
Any close calls with a bomb going off while it was being removed?
If there were, we wouldnt be around to reddit about it...
Hi there. Great work you guys are doing, much appreciated!
I returned from Laos a year ago, where I worked with a Swedish agroforestry company. Our guys had some though times clearing our plantations, especially when they encountered large bombs. It was done the old fashioned way, probe with a stick 45 degrees and clear a small area at the time as far as I know.
What techniques are you guys using, for mines and ordnance respectively?
We do mostly EOD Spot Tasks, whereby someone knows or suspects there to be item at a specific location. We interview households to find out these dangerous areas, mark them, and the clearance teams follow up with clearance with various types of metal detectors, depending on the situation. We also do clearance of areas which will be used for a specific development activity i.e. builing a school, health centre, etc
How does one go about getting into the work you do?
there are plenty of ways, i've got a development NGO background, a lot of the technical people have military backgrounds, but people who work for MAG are from all over the place and have a lot of different backgrounds
Chris - the shirt you wore in the video with Jonathan was pretty cool. Can I buy a t-shirt like that in America?
In fact there is, yes!
MAG has an office in Washington DC - have a look here; https://app.etapestry.com/cart/MAGAmerica/default/category.php?ref=321.0.164516909
Is it more common to disarm the mine or blow it up in a controlled demo? Which is "better"?
Generally, its safer to blow it up
How did you first get involved in MAG?
What is your most favorite Vietnamese dish?
I used to live in manchester, where MAG is based, so heard about them then and applied for a job when the right one came up... simple as that!
I love Muc Chin xao (basically calamari...), seafood is amazing in general
What languages are you able to speak?
I can barely speak English!
OK Reddit - thanks for your questions, its nearly middnight, i've run out of wine and have to work tomorrow!
In your travels, have you run across any old wrecks of American aircraft or helicopters or anything else of that nature?
In Laos, yes, there was some aircraft pieces in villages which remain intact
Have you ever had someone working with you die defusing an ordinance?
Never in Vietnam.. touch wood (again)
Have you been bothered in the past by quacks/fraudsters such as Gary Bolton and James McCormick?
Any relation of Michael Bolton?
How much in donations have you guys been able to leech from reddit in the past month?
Not enough! please keep supporting us!
My girl cat is in heat. What is the best way I can masturbate her to satisfy her?
not sure my friend.. you'll have to work that out for yourself
Hi Chris! Greetings from the USA! Thanks for your help while I was in Vietnam. A pleasure working with you and your team. -Jonathan
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