Unsung Hero: Howard "Jim" Yoder

by Katie FitzGerald [ Mine Action Information Center ]

Since getting involved in mine action six years ago, Jim Yoder has contributed his dedication and long hours in the field to help reap humanitarian benefits for many people in Thailand, Cambodia and now the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Yoder is an inspiration to his peers and the many others he has reached through his work.

HeadshotHoward "Jim" Yoder knew nothing about demining when he got his first assignment in August 2001. Five years later, at a VIP Day ceremony for the recent handover of demined and cleared land in Thailand (attended by the program manager of the U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining R and D Program, U.S. embassy representatives, Japanese ambassadors, the Italian ambassador, provincial governors, the Royal Thai Army Deputy Supreme Commander, Thai senators, heads of nongovernmental organizations and other dignitaries), Yoder's name was mentioned more than once in speeches, each time acknowledging his vital role with the Thailand Mine Action Centre and his dedication to his demining commitments. In the eyes of more people than he probably knows, Jim Yoder is a very deserving unsung hero.

In 2001, a vegetation-machine manufacturer in Cambodia hired Yoder and later sent him to Thailand to maintain their machines. He has never left, and has now worked for S-3 Services—which has a contract with the Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining R and D Program—for the past three years. Yoder has devoted his life to removing landmines in Thailand and returning the land to farmers.

"Jim is truly one of a kind. He is one of the most dedicated individuals I have ever met," says Ron Smith, owner and Director of S-3 Services. "I believe that without him, the mission of TMAC would never have seen the success in returning land to the Thai farmers. He is truly the driving force behind clearing the land of thick vegetation so that the manual deminers can get in and do their work."

For Yoder, his work is more than a job, which is made manifest through his tireless efforts—maintenance of heavy equipment, vegetation clearance, daily operations, etc. Yoder works 12 hours a day, six to seven days per week, "although he does have some long days," quips Smith. Some of the duties Yoder assumes are making sure the equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense is maintained, repaired and operated properly; overseeing the cut/clean operation in areas in which the Thailand Mine Action Centre is assigned to operate; and "any other jobs that I am asked to undertake—and that seems to be many," says Yoder. After working in the minefields all day, he goes home to file daily, weekly and monthly reports with photos. "Jim not only cares about getting his work done, he takes it upon himself to provide the deminers with motivation," says Smith. "Jim is a real morale booster, and he takes care of the local Thai and Cambodian people involved in demining."

Image 1
Air Spade cleaning Tempest T7 in area 153 at Nong Yakaew, Thailand. All photos courtesy of Jim Yoder

According to Smith, most of the work that has been done (land cleared and returned to farmers) would not have been completed without Yoder. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world with regards to the Tempest (a flail vegetation and ground-engagement machine), and one of the most experienced and knowledgeable people on the Uni Disk, Shin Cutter system.1 He understands the concepts of manual and mechanical demining. "Since most of the machines are in the [research and development] stages, Jim's comments and constructive observations often lead to improvements in the systems," Smith says, "which result in savings of time and money, and therefore, limbs, lives and land."

For Yoder, the most important thing is that landmines are being removed from Thailand and the land is being returned to the people for farming. "We are making areas easier, faster and safer for manual demining to be completed by using the machines ahead of them," says Yoder. Though it is a dangerous job, Yoder truly appreciates the great cooperation he gets from the staff of Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, the TMAC staff and the TMAC equipment operators. He says it is quite rewarding when "the local villagers stop you and thank you for making it possible for their land to be demined and handed back to them for farming and a living."

Yet Yoder does not feel like a hero. As he put it, "I am just a man that has always worked hard and tried to do what I am asked to do." To Yoder the real heroes are the three TMAC machine operators (Boontounm, EK and Wat) who have been with him from the start of this job. "They are the ones who have to operate this equipment everyday inside a proposed mine area and do it without any gripes," says Yoder. "The TMAC equipment operators are my heroes and they need a lot more credit for what we have done here along with Night Vision Labs and TMAC, without whose support we could not have completed what we have to date."

Conclusion

In January 2007, S-3 Services moved one of their major pieces of vegetation equipment to Laos, and Yoder did the major repairs and preparation for this movement. According to Smith, without Yoder, it would've been a sad task to get done. "Now even Laos will benefit from the fruits of Jim's labors," says Smith.

Yoder, who is supported "200 percent" by his wife, whom he met in Cambodia six years ago, is an example to deminers and anyone concerned with demining, according to Smith. "His dogged work ethic, his gruff, but at the same time gentle, personality, and his concern for the mission and the men are but a few of his qualities," says Smith. "In our theater of operation here in Thailand, he is my unsung hero anyhow." Bullet

Biography

HeadshotKatie FitzGerald worked as an Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Mine Action from May 2006 through June 2007. She graduated in May 2007 from James Madison University with a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism, and moved to Colorado following graduation.

Endnotes

  1. A Uni Disk, Shin Cutter System is similar to backhoe. Basically consisting of a Cat 325B excavator tractor with a long excavator arm and fitted with an extra engine that runs the Shinn cutter. It is heavily armored against mine detonations and is primarily used with various attachments to remove vegetation from mine effects areas.

References

  1. E-mail correspondence with Ron Smith. 23 January 2007.
  2. E-mail correspondence with Howard "Jim" Yoder. 11 July 2006.
  3. E-mail correspondence with Howard "Jim" Yoder. 24 May 2007.

Contact Information

Katie FitzGerald
Editorial Assistant
Journal of Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
E-mail: maic@jmu.edu

Howard "Jim" Yoder
Thailand
Tel: +66 86 139 6948
E-mail: jimyoder@hotmail.com

Ron Smith
S-3 Services, Inc.
3333 Knob Oaks Drive
Huntsville, TX 77340 / USA
Tel: +1 936 435 9521
E-mail: ron@kku.ac.th