Lt. Col. Robert Fabian Gomez
Director of the Engineers School of the Uruguayan Army
Could you briefly introduce the Uruguayan Army Engineers School and talk to us about your role as its Director? What are your main responsibilities with regards to demining and EOD?
The Uruguayan Engineers Army School was created on June 7th, 1988. Its main mission is to train and further develop the skills of Military Engineer Personnel for the purposes of specialized activities, as well as to instruct military personnel from other Forces on the activities and training of the Army Engineers.
As the Director, I am responsible for issuing, planning and coordinating the Engineers School’s general directives on teaching, training and overall instruction. The director is also responsible for the planning, structure and practical implementation of the training of the humanitarian demining and UXO disposal operation supervisors as well that of the demining squads in charge of the detection and identification of unexploded ordnances. Moreover, the Engineers School bears the responsibility to train all military personnel involved in peace missions in the handling and identification of mines and UXOs.
What was your personal motivation to pursue a career in EOD and demining specifically?
After obtaining theoretical training on mines and ammunitions, in 1996 I got the opportunity to help establish the United Nations Demining School in Angola as the Supervisor of Demining Operations. This 15-month eye-opening experience led me to see not only the direct issues caused by mines, but also its dire economic, social and environmental consequences. Since this formative experience I pursued and acquired different qualifications from various national and international schools and institutes as an instructor in the fields of humanitarian demining operations, UXOs and the tactical use of mine fields.
Given your experience in the field, what do you think the public sector can learn from the military with regards to demining, and vice-versa? What are the possibilities for improving civil-military interoperability in this field?
I, personally, believe in the importance of information exchange and teamwork with an ultimate common goal in mind – the safeguarding and saving of lives. Especially in Latin America, the civil sector has had a significant impact when it comes to protective and detection equipment, as the input of the military in this regard is rudimentary in comparison. Specifically, the Uruguayan Army purchases all its demining, EOD and CBRN equipment from the civil industry.
In your opinion, which non-conventional threats do you consider as the key for the immediate future? And what is the Uruguayan Army doing to make sure it is prepared to respond to and address these threats?
CBRN threats, even if viewed as low-probability yet high-impact risks, do not simply cease to fall under the classification of “non-conventional threats” just because they have begun to be taken into account progressively more by governments. In that sense, even a small-scale CBRN terrorist attack could have a considerable impact on societies and economies against which it is performed, as it would cause severe and durable damage, as well as a general feeling of fear and insecurity.
Then there are biological threats, especially the Ebola or measles viruses. Both threats are now contained, also thanks to the presence of the Uruguayan Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) under the UN mandate, making a difference all across the DRC, including the worst affected areas. In that sense, it is important to emphasize the real risk that the flow of personnel from the affected zone towards Uruguay could cause an epidemic/pandemic that could seriously affect the Uruguayan population as well as those of other neighboring countries. Apart from the biological threats, further risks could include potential outbreaks of anthrax as well as food-and-mouth diseases (FMD) among animals and/or bird flu and pig flu.
When it comes to preventing, preparing for and responding to non-conventional and - in particular - CBRN threats, substantial investment on the part of the state is required. Similarly, the officials of the National Army pursue constant improvement in CBRN response (e.g. through courses, trainings or simulated exercises) as well as in the intelligence and counter-intelligence fields, counter-terrorism and terrorist ordnance disposal or border control, just to mention a few examples.
Imagine you could speak directly to key representatives of the industry; which innovation or product development would make the lives of deminers and EOD operators easier and/or more efficient?
With regards to CBRN incidents response, what I find of high importance is the exchange of information and participation in simulated exercises through courses and trainings that offer the possibility for joint development and response improvement of first responders from different organizations. Another key aspect is the pursuit of strict control over all chemical substances that are within the industry to be able to make better predictions of the most efficient and effective response to incidents involving the said chemicals.
When it comes to demining and EOD, the progressive development of other detection techniques (e.g. the use of canines), which complement manual detection, would be of much help in the field. When it comes to the national industry in particular, it should focus on protection and detection products, amongst others, in order to enable responders ready access to all necessary equipment, given there is still a large potential for the development of the national market in the EOD/CBRN field.