My short bio: Hi Reddit! My name is Eddie Chaloner, I am a vascular surgeon in the UK and have volunteered in land mine clearance in ex conflict zones. Recently I was asked to get involved in making a major war film --Kajaki-- which focuses on landmines. I am a former airborne soldier and I had been present on two separate occasions when people were blown up right in front of me in minefields.

EDIT: Thank you all for your questions, I really had a great time answering them!

My Proof: https://twitter.com/EddieChaloner, Imgur

Comments: 132 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

ROKandHARDPLACE40 karma

If South and North Koreas ever reunify, how many landmines will need to be cleared?

echaloner40 karma

I've no idea of the number but imagine most of them would be on the border between the two countries and have been there for a while - its probable that the forces that laid them have good records of how many mines, what type and their locations, so as a mine clearing task it should be (relatively) easy

ROKandHARDPLACE19 karma

The South has been removing mines at the DMZ for years. The North, maybe not.

Could mines from the 1960's still be dangerous?

echaloner31 karma

yes definately - some mines will degrade over time depending on the local environmental conditions and the type of explosive they contain. But the main charges are pretty stable compounds and as long as the detonator components havent corroded, they will function pretty effectively - for example the mines laid in Afghanistan by the Soviets in the 1980's were still wounding British soldiers in 2006 - the subject of the Kajaki movie that I recently advised on

ittakesacrane12 karma

Do mines ever just spontaneously explode because of degradation?

echaloner13 karma

very rarely. The main charge is chemically very stable because they need to be stored for a long time and transported safely. they become dangerous when the fuse and detonator are inserted - the detonator usually contains a very sensitive high explosive which then sets off the main charge. |The detonator can degrade in wet conditions and if it does then it shouldn't set off the main charge. However in very arid conditions such as Afghanistan, the mines can stay active for a very long time as the detonators will not degrade

WhyAtlas20 karma

You working with military engineers/sappers/rcp's or is your organization independent? What sort of equipment do you use for detection and clearance?

btbam66625 karma

Thank you for mentioning the Engineers. We never get recognition, damn EOD getting a movie made.

echaloner30 karma

you should - best thing about being co-located with the engrs is that they build decent field toilets pretty quickly!

squidlekins10 karma

If you're talking about the Hurt Locker, no one in EOD is proud of that movie.

AFakeName5 karma

Why not?

Recoveringfrenchman14 karma

Ask tankers about Fury, ask SWAT/ERT about the movie SWAT and my personal favourite: ask me about Buffalo Soldiers. Few Hollywood movies do justice to mil jobs.

echaloner13 karma

Yes I completely agree frenchman - the exception tho is 'Kajaki-the true story' - check it out. It is absolutely accurate in every respect and I say that as someone who has done this stuff for real

echaloner8 karma

when I was doing mineclearance work it was for a charity (HALO Trust), tho I also worked with engineers in the British Army. Most standard mine detection equipment is based on metal detectors to pick up signals from the metal component of the weapon, tho there are several other methods, ranging from mechanical area clearance using kit like flails, to the more esoteric methods such as use of dogs or other animals to pick up explosive scents

playblacksabbathat7818 karma

how much impact do you think Princess Diana had on the world's landmine situation?

echaloner23 karma

Quite a significant impact from a 30 minute photo shoot! I had just left Quito (Angola) a few weeks before the famous media event. Nevertheless it does illustrate the power of media and 'celebrity'. The ensuing publicity did raise a lot of money (especially in the USA) and did add a push to the 'global landmine treaty' - although I'm a bit sceptical about the value of the latter. So, yes, in summary a significant contribution

mayhemXTC15 karma

I would love to do something useful and exciting like this. Would you recommend it - what are the pro's & cons ? What are the requirements and how/where do I go about volunteering ?

echaloner12 karma

Yes I would certainly recommend it, although you should be aware that it can be a dangerous business - many volunteers have been killed in the last few years including friends of mine.

The main thing as far as finding something that suits you is to discover what your own particular skill set is and then find an agency that can utilise your abilities - there are lots of organisations in the field - find one that you like the look of and go and talk to them!

real-dreamer12 karma

I step on a land mine. I don't step off. What do I do to save life and limb?

echaloner16 karma

Bad luck ! Most buried mines have pressure activated plates, so as soon as you step on it, the main charge will detonate - so now you no longer have a foot or leg to worry about (depending on the size and type of the mine) You will now be horizontal and in some pain. If you have someone with you, they should try to get you out of the minefield safely and apply a tourniquet to your upper leg to prevent you bleeding to death. See the film to get a good idea of what thats like ! www.kajakimoviecom

real-dreamer6 karma

I will check that movie out. Here TV shows and movies have taught me that the mine goes off after stepping off, not while stepping on.

Thank you very much for doing this ama I appreciate it.

Wow. I'm interested in land mines now and I found this video of a Cambodian gentleman disarming a live landmine. Fascinating.

http://www.funker530.com/how-to-disarm-a-live-landmine-as-demonstrated-with-a-live-landmine/

echaloner9 karma

That is a PMN 2 Russian mine. It contains 115gms of TNT. INteresting he found it buried upside down. If it really was a live mine then he is an idiot. If is had gone off that close to his face it would probably have killed him - dont try that at home

kingsillygoose11 karma

[deleted]

echaloner13 karma

Thats a good question but difficult to estimate because most of the injuries are in civilian populations in rural areas of poor countries so the record keeping is usually non existant. Mine clearance programmes have been very active in the last 20 years, so certainly the situation is improving. An equally substantial impact is on deprivation of useful land which is thought to be contaminated by landmines, so is left barren instead of used for growing food

iBigBoyBrian10 karma

When will the Master Chief Collection start to work?

echaloner6 karma

No idea. Like I said in another answer I prefer blowing things up to playing computer games

idontliketocomment9 karma

I volunteered for a few months for the HALO Trust in Cambodia. I absolutely loved my time there. One of the things I'd hear from more seasoned people there is that Cambodia was one of the better assignments because at least people weren't like...trying to re-plant land mines or do other messed up stuff to keep aid money flowing. What they said they liked about EOD instead of something like battling disease is that "land mines don't reproduce. once they're gone, they're gone. it's a solvable problem".

What do you think the biggest obstacle to land mine clearance in former combat zones is?

echaloner4 karma

Agreed on that point - it is certainly solvable. The biggest problem is political stability. Mines and UXO got cleared up pretty quickly after WW2 as soon as peace was re-established. The places where conflict just goes on and on like afghanistan are the toughest

Cult_films8 karma

What's your favorite type of pie?

echaloner14 karma

Large one please

burrza7 karma

What's the situation in Bosnia right now?

echaloner12 karma

As far as mines are concerned I dont think bosnia is a particularly big deal. During the conflict there werent that many mines laid outside the zones of confrontation. There were a reasonable number of injuries during the active fighting, but as soon as that stopped, the casualty rate dropped off quickly (I published some work on that from the area around Vitez in 1996). Also the EU and other large donors paid for a clearance effort post conflict

Eternally657 karma

Why couldn't we clear large areas at a time with a fuel air explosion overhead? They must surely provide a massive pressure wave over a large area.

echaloner11 karma

yes that can be done in certain circumstances - for example in active war that kind of approach can be used to create a breech through a minefield to allow an assault to go in. However for humanitarian purposes its not much use - partly because the mined areas are close to peoples houses, so they could get damaged and also in the assault situation its not necessary to clear up all the mines - just a small number to allow a path for the attack - in long term mine clearance, all the mines need to be cleared and that cant reliably be done by the methods you outline

milwaukeestreetcar7 karma

[deleted]

echaloner6 karma

Dont think so. They are a fantastically useful weapon and have been in existance in one form or another since Roman times. For example the mines laid by the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980's were injuring British soldiers in 2006 - which is why I was asked to advise on the recent Kajaki film. So you can pass as many treaties as you like, but I dont think mines will go away

MrMason5226 karma

Would you rather get rid of 1 horse sized land mine or 100 land mine sized horses?

echaloner23 karma

They are both equally useless. A horse sized landmine is too large to deploy effectively A landmine sized horse is too small to ride

DONT_PM_ME_NOTHIN4 karma

What's SOP for a suspicious looking "thing" you come across? What steps do you take every time to ensure everyone's and your safety?

echaloner6 karma

Well most landmines are buried, so you cant see them. However there are some types which are not buried, or scattered on the ground like cluster bomblets for example. So the first thing is dont touch it ! Then mark it clearly, so everyone else can see it is potentially dangerous. Then decide what to do about it - if it is clearly a munition, the safest thing to do is to blow it up in situ, so place a charge next to the object, clear everyone out of the area and detonate it.

Swazzoo4 karma

Biggest misconception people have had over what you do/what you've been doing?

echaloner5 karma

that people who do this are heroes - not so - just ordinary people in odd places - once again check this film to get an idea: www.kajakimovie.com

EVSnowden3 karma

Do your men hand clear or use the thrasher?

echaloner3 karma

MOst work like that is still done by hand because flails and other mechanical devices cant clear precisely - they often scatter live landmines to other places - you also cant use them in built up areas and also in dusty countries they often break down because grit gets into the gears - plus they are expensive to run!

Bingo_Dino_DNA3 karma

How long is a mine dangerous for once buried? And as a former Marine, thanks for doing what you do!

echaloner2 karma

Well as I mentioned in a previous answer it depends on a number of factors such as the type of the explosive in the mine and the soil conditions. Main explosive charges are chemically quite stable so will remain dangerous for a long time - the issue usually relates to the integrity of the fuse and the detonator - if that has corroded due to being in wet conditions for example than it usually won't function to set off the main charge - if however its in a very dry environment, then it can easily still be active after many years - thats why legacy landmines from the Soviets in Afghanistan can still wound British soldiers 30 years after they were laid - check out the film 'Kajaki - the true story' which is about that very issue.

Lauxman2 karma

I have military experience as an engineer who dealt with IEDs and has training on mines and other types of ordinance. How do I get involved in this kind of effort?

echaloner2 karma

MojarraMuncher2 karma

What is more problematic/dangerous for you to clear: aging hidden landmines, or unexploded ordinance?

echaloner2 karma

well they can both be dangerous but UXO is generally more hazardous and volatile. Depends entirely on the context

MumIamStrong1 karma

Hey Dr. Chaloner! Firstly, thank you for taking time out of your day to answer questions.

  1. What brought you to volunteer? I understand you've got some military background, but did that urge you on to volunteer or were there other factors involved?

  2. "I had been present on two separate occasions when people were blown up right in front of me in minefields." Has this affected you?

  3. In regard to friends and family: are they concerned about your voluntary work? Have they voiced their opinions beforehand?


Personally, you're an absolute, absolute inspiration. I'm currently a medical student at King's College London and I'm considering surgery (I'm about 90% sure). I'm still trying to figure out what intercalated BSc/MSc to do, but I'm inclined towards a speciality that is related with trauma/conflict. I understand that Ortho/MaxFax may be my best options. I was born in Iraq and came to the UK early in my life, so in regard to your assistance and voluntary work, I am grateful.

P.S: you're an inspiration. I've somehow planned out my life around working as a surgeon, and in my spare time, to work abroad fixing people in conflict zones. I've been building up my portfolio, but it's heavily bias towards philosophy, ethics, theology, and epidemiology (I'm in the process of hopefully getting a paper published, so I'm quite excited!). And your life is a reflection of what I hope to work towards. Thank you Dr. Chaloner, I genuinely mean it.

In all sincerity, I won't mind going for a drink/coffee/shadow/w.e just to hear half your stories.

echaloner2 karma

Well thats very kind of you, thanks I really got started because i was interested in military surgery and to be honest wanted a bit of adventure - then it sort of carried on from there! I stopped doing dangerous things when I got married and had kids but am still involved as an advisor - such as the Kajaki movie and other projects - I might get my hands dirty again when the children are older. I dont have any problems about flashbacks or anything like that - I think being a surgeon and a 'realist' does help in that regard - I went into this stuff knowing the deal and knowing what could happen -the people who suffer most are your family, which is why I stopped when I got married. Apart from that I spend most of my time fixing varicose veins these days - its not quite as exciting but I just enjoy most aspects of surgery www.radianceveinclinic.com

whytegallo1 karma

Thanks for all you do out there. I wanted to ask, you said that you have seen people blown up and such even close friends, I was curious if you have ever had one go off close enough to hurt you?

echaloner2 karma

Fortunately not tho I have heard shrapnel whizz past a couple of times

whytegallo1 karma

When you first heard that sound of a piece of metal flying by you that could of killed you, how did that affect you? Did it make you wonder why you go out there to do what you do? Thanks for your answers!

echaloner2 karma

No not really - I just got flat on the floor and hoped another one wasnt going to go off ! Like I said before I knew what I was getting into and so did my friends, some of whom did get blown up - but no regrets or complaints

justmystuff1 karma

[deleted]

echaloner1 karma

There are several mineclearing charities and companies that bid for commercial contracts. The one I know best is the HALO Trust - you can contact them via the website www.halotrust.org They are based in Scotland. There are plenty of other organisations that do the same thing - for example the Mines Action Group again a UK based organisation

MojarraMuncher1 karma

I live in Colombia. Some parts are heavily mined due to the FARC activity and this is mostly jungle. Have you worked with Colombian NGOs on mine removal and how would you compare removing mines in the jungle to other areas?

echaloner2 karma

No I havent any personal experience of that but I'm sure its very difficult as the vegetation has to be cleared back first and that can in itself be risky - its a lot easier if there isnt much plant coverage on the soil. I think HALO Trust do have a project in Colombia.

Graceful_cumartist1 karma

How do you feel about organizations like Greenpeace and PETA that seem to be just new type business run with a different angle? Especially considering you work with and organization that has very tangible effects and can be easily shadowed in the media by these type of organizations.

echaloner4 karma

dont know enough about that to comment I'm afraid

wessago1 karma

When do you think afghanistan would be mine free ? Do you give chance to Afghan society to abandon old Taliban stuff and integrate with world ?.

echaloner1 karma

Afghanistan is a very complex and tribal society - it also suffers from a lot of cross border interference and it has been like that for generations. Personally I think it will be politically unstable certainly for the foreseeable future. Without a stable political situation, establishing security and effective rehabilitation programmes is very difficult, so I think there will be a continuing danger in large parts of the country from landmines and other UXO

smiley20131 karma

[deleted]

echaloner5 karma

I know the technical advisor on the film, so I'd better be a bit careful ! I think that as far as the technical aspects were concerned it was pretty accurate. However it was clearly 'Hollywood' in the portrayal of the incidents and the 'dramatisation' I enjoyed it as a film, but dont think that it reflects the reality on the ground. If you want to see reality in the context of mines and recent conflict then, at the risk of giving a massive overt plug, go and see Kajaki - The true story (www.kajakimovie.com)- I can assure you thats about as close as you can get to reality without actually being there in person

MojarraMuncher1 karma

Despite the conventions, which countries are still actively laying down land mines and what is their reasoning?

echaloner2 karma

Countries with long land borders, especially over disputed areas are reluctant to stop deploying landmines - such as India and Pakistan ( I and I can see the reason for that). Also you often find that a country will sign a treaty in peacetime not to use a specific weapon (like the former Jugoslavia for example) then as soon as conflict breaks out, they start using them - once the fighting starts, rules often get chucked out of the window!

travworld1 karma

What kind of steps are involved in removing a land mine?

echaloner1 karma

first of all you need to know where it is - detection is still usually done by using a metal detector tho there are some mines which are low or minimal metal content and that can be a problem. ONce the mine has been identified the soil is scraped away to expose it. Usually then it is destroyed in situ by placing a small explosive charge next to it and blowing it up

Headless_Pinata1 karma

I know you mentioned flails earlier, but I don't understand why a robotic device with large flails cannot drive through a known minefield for a few hours or days. Is that too impractical?

EDIT: just saw your post above, thanks!

echaloner2 karma

Well it can do, but see the answer just above - flails are sometimes referred to as 'mine scatterers' rather than mine clearers - the thrashing action can dislodge a mine and throw it a few metres but not necessarily set it off - they are great at clearing breeches thro a mine belt for troops to assault an objectve, but not so good at ensuring 100% clearance of an area so that people are absolutely confident there are no mines left there

virhe1 karma

Assuming one doesn't have background in military/engineering/explosives, is it still possible to get involved in mine clearing work? What kind of qualifications are generally required?

echaloner1 karma

You dont necessarily need those qualifications - most clearance organisations also need logisticians and general admin people to make the place function

copycat1 karma

What's the model of landmine you dread the most and why?

echaloner1 karma

Minimal metal ones - very hard to detect

ZXRider1 karma

Good day sir.

1) have you cleared any mines left over from the Iran-Iraq war?

2) Do you know the name of your movie translates to "sideways"?

echaloner2 karma

1) Yes I worked on a project in Kurdistan in Northern Iraq in 1998 on the border with Iran 2) Didnt know that - Kajaki is the name of a dam in Helmand province that a section from 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regt were guarding at the time of the incident depicted in the movie in 2006. Not sure why a dam would be called 'sideways' though !

ZXRider1 karma

Thank you for your hard work. I know there are mines still left over from that conflict and other conflicts.

Yes kajaki means sideways, or more precisely it means not straight. I guess if makes sense since you mentioned once a person hits a mine you become horizontal since you will lose that limb based on the size of the mine.

echaloner2 karma

Fair point, but it was called Kajaki before the mines went off ! I guess 'not straight' could apply to the course of the river that was dammed up maybe

Kirky03311 karma

What were your experiences in Rwanda and Bosnia like?

echaloner2 karma

Rwanda was pretty hard work - lot of refugees and abandoned kids to look after. A few landmine injuries as well. Most of the time I was involved in sorting out Kibeho refugee camp and that was quite rewarding as we could measure the mortality rate dropping as we got the place sorted out Bosnia for the most part was actually quite dull - a very nasty civil war, especially the Kosovo bit

prototypist1 karma

I met a dude who does GIS mapping for HALO Trust. Awesome and life-saving work!

As a US citizen it would be difficult for me to work for a Scottish NGO full time. Do you know of similar well-established organizations based in the US?

echaloner2 karma

HALO have a US branch but I think its mainly just a fundraiser organisation. Sorry I dont personally know of any US based operations but I am sure there will be some - why not message HALO and I am sure they will help www.halotrust.org

EnderWiggin3rd1 karma

Hello The land mines you clear, what conflicts are they from and who put them there?

echaloner1 karma

Varies - the most relevant one to this AMA is the Afghan conflict. Most of the mines there were planted by the Soviets in the 1980's but are still functional - thats why I was brought in to advise on the new film Kajaki-the true story (www.kajakimovie.com) In other conflicts mines are laid down by a variety of warring parties or rebel movements, such as UNITA / Angolan Army, RENAMO / Mozambique Army, FARC / Colombian Army, Khymer Rouge / Cambodian army and so on etc etc!

sj51 karma

What do you think of MAG (Mines Advisory Group)?

echaloner1 karma

Never worked with them personally but they have been around a long time - certainly since the early 1990's

OriginalUnicornBoner-1 karma

What are your thoughts on the bug riddled release of Halo MCC, and how will this affect your future work?

echaloner6 karma

No idea - ask someone who prefers computer games to high explosives