Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

All Clear in Kinmen 2: Deminers play down dangers of job

All Clear in Kinmen 2: Deminers play down dangers of job

By Elaine Hou, CNA staff reporter "The more dangerous a job is, the safer it can be," said Lt. Col. Shi Lu-kuang of his efforts to clear mines from Taiwan's outlying islands since 2006. Speaking with CNA, Shi recalled how his years in a military demining unit in Kinmen County seemed dangerous to most -- but not to him. He is now deputy head of the Army Demining Division, which was established in 2007 and made up of voluntary military personnel taken only after they signed paperwork to consent to the potentially dangerous work, along with consent from spouses, or if unmarried, parents. "At that time, I kind of lied to my wife, telling her that it was good to work on Kinmen, a relaxing place," said the 40-year-old, who has been involved in demining since 2006, a year before the division was established. His wife did not know much about mine clearing at first, and Shi took the time to convince her the job is not as precarious as most would expect. The most dangerous job brings the strictest of demands and safety procedures, he explained. Higher-ranking officers in the division meet every day from Monday to Friday to review the day's work and discuss how to do better the next day, he added. "My wife has come to accept it and recognize it," he said of the inherent safety of his job. Shi came from the army corps of engineers, where he was trained in demining, but he had never had a chance to put his skills to use -- until he heard that the army was putting together a demining taskforce. Kuo Tai-chu, 25, another member of the division, said the more you know about demining, the less you worry. "You see it as dangerous, but that's because you don't understand it," Kuo said, recalling how he convinced his parents to sign the paper letting him join the operation. Kuo reckons he has removed hundreds of mines during his three-and-a-half years in the division. But this now-seasoned expert was nervous, too, when he first started. "I was very nervous. I had to be extremely meticulous, just like an archaeologist (with a relic)," Kuo said. It takes two weeks of basic training and four weeks of advanced training, including in detecting and removing land mines, to qualify for the position. Training is followed by 256 hours of on-the-job practice at minefields. "I was extremely nervous (during that practice) when our equipment made a sound meaning a metal item had been detected," Shi said. The "mine," however, turned out to be nothing more than a buried empty beverage container. "It took me 40 minutes to calm down," he admitted. Finding mines in Matsu, which like Kinmen lies only kilometers from the Chinese coast, was easier because most of them were planted on cliffs and not moved, Shi said. The challenge was in standing on the steep cliff sides while doing the delicate work. Kinmen is a different story. Most landmines there were planted on flat, coastal areas, Shi said. As the decades passed, mines drifted to new locations due to changing coastlines and tidal patterns. Shi's team has discovered mines in some difficult to imagine places -- including, more than once, one mine located directly on top of another. But backing up their claims of the safety is the Demining Division's stellar record. According to Shi, none of its deminers have been killed or seriously injured on the job despite dealing with the deadly weapons. According to official statistics, more than 123,400 landmines and unexploded ordnance have been removed from Kinmen and Matsu over the years. Now that the military's largest demining operation has come to a close, 20-plus professional deminers will remain in Kinmen after April 2014. Both Shi and Kuo hope to be among them. "Every time we remove a mine, we reduce a risk on Kinmen," Kuo said. "It is a meaningful job."


Updated : 2021-06-20 22:13 GMT+08:00