Norwich Leaders and State Officials Join Campaign to Sniff Out Landmines

(l-r) Perry Baltimore, President of the Marshall Legacy Institute; Rosa, an 11-year-old Belgian Malinois; Governor Jim Douglas; and Marcelle Leahy, wife of U.S. Senator Patrick J. Leahy
(photo courtesy of Toby Talbot, AP)

Governor Jim Douglas, former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, and Marcelle Leahy joined Norwich University Board Chairman Gordon Sullivan and President Richard Schneider Wednesday, April 27, to launch a statewide landmine awareness campaign that will provide Vermont schoolchildren with an opportunity to help children in nations where deadly landmines remain buried.

The star of this kick-off, however, was Rosa, an 11-year-old Belgian Malinois. In addition to her handsome looks and friendly demeanor, Rosa is a dog with a special talent: she can sniff out landmines.

Rosa, her handler, and various VIPs traveled across Vermont during the final week of April courtesy of the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI), a nonprofit organization founded by General Sullivan two years after he stepped down as Army Chief of Staff. The Marshall Legacy Institute entourage visited elementary and middle schools from Lyndon to Burlington to Dorset.

The principal goal of MLI’s Vermont Children Against Mines Program (CHAMPS) campaign is to increase young people’s awareness of the human and economic consequences of landmines and generally to enhance their spirit of global citizenship.

Raising funds to purchase and train mine-detection dogs is the secondary objective of CHAMPS. For as little as 25 cents, every K-12 student had the opportunity to participate in the fundraising initiative. The MLI has established a goal to raise $20,000 in Vermont, enough to purchase, train, and transport one landmine-sniffing dog – to be named "Vermont" – to a nation where landmines are still killing and maiming people.

More than 50 million unexploded landmines remain buried in at least 70 nations across the globe. Worldwide, a person is killed or maimed by a landmine every 22 minutes. Mines kill hundreds of thousands of wild and domesticated animals each year.

General Sullivan
GEN Sullivan, USA (ret.)
(photo courtesy of Toby Talbot, AP)

"Our focus is on getting the mines out of the ground and really doing something to rid the world of this scourge and enable people who live in villages in faraway places to get back out into their fields, to get back into the countryside where they live, and to lead productive, safe lives," said General Sullivan, speaking at the MLI's formal launch of the Vermont CHAMPS campaign on the Vermont College campus of the Union Institute & University in Montpelier.

"As a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a nurse, I care an awful lot about the damage these instruments do to people around the world," said Mrs. Leahy, wife of U.S. Senator Patrick J. Leahy. Mrs. Leahy, who has visited African nations where landmines continue to kill people, recalled meeting a young boy at a clinic in Uganda who had contracted polio because health care workers could not get to his village due to the many landmines in the area.

Lake, who served as National Security Advisor from 1993 to 1997 and now teaches at Georgetown University, also noted the impacts of landmines beyond the immediate physical damage they inflict. Mines cause farmers to stop using their fields and can prevent students from attending school. These effects can fuel ethnic and religious strife, and ultimately lead to more acts of terrorism, said Lake, the MLI Board Chairman.

Rosa, who is now in semi-retirement after more than seven years of sniffing out mines in Bosnia, Croatia, Namibia, and Kosovo, demonstrated her talents by finding a non-lethal landmine hidden in a flowerpot. The grey, plastic mine -- invisible to metal detectors -- was about the size of a hockey puck and would look like a toy to just about any child younger than 10.

President Schneider said he wants to expand CHAMPS to Vermont colleges and universities. He said Norwich University will work with the Vermont Campus Compact to develop ideas for bringing CHAMPS to campuses during the fall semester.

More than 800 mine-sniffing dogs are currently working in two dozen nations. The MLI is working to raise enough money in 2005 to train and transport 30 more dogs.

The U.S. State Department matches all money raised by MLI on a three-to-one basis. While the Institute provides the funds to purchase and train mine-detection dogs, the U.S. State Department provides the money to train and equip local handlers, so the dog teams can be effectively integrated into national landmine clearance programs in countries such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Bosnia. Through this leveraging, every 25 cents given by an individual actually provides one dollar toward the global effort to rid nations of landmines.

MLI President Perry Balitmore noted that 4 of the 400 mine-sniffing dogs trained in the United States have been killed or injured on the job. While the loss of a single dog is tragic, the benefits of removing landmines far outweigh the risk to the dogs, he said, which is why the Humane Society of the United States is one of MLI’s partner organizations.