Published on October 9th, 2016 | by Jim Lee0
Irish Troops return to Dublin Airport having completed a Six Month Deployment to the Golan Heights
The 130 Irish personnel of the 52nd Infantry Group, under the commend of Lieutenant Colonel Mark Hearns, returned to Dublin on 5th October, following a six month deployment to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights (UNDOF). The 52th Infantry Group is the sixth Irish contingent to deploy with UNDOF. During their deployment they were able to benefit from experience gained from over 55 years of Irish Defence Force peacekeeping throughout the world. This included experience in the region where Irish troops have been contributing to the UNIFIL Mission, in Lebanon, since its inception in 1978.
The returning personnel were met by their families and friends on arrival in Terminal 1 in Dublin Airport, where they received an ecstatic reception. The members of the 52nd Infantry Group are drawn from 18 units across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. The 27th Infantry Battalion, based in Aiken Barracks in Dundalk, provides the largest contingent with 41 personnel and although primarily composed of Infantry troops, it included elements from Artillery, Cavalry, Signals, Engineers, Ordnance, Transport, Medical and Military police. This provided it with a wide range of skills and capabilities, enabling it to make a key contribution to the mission. On the Golan Heights, they constituted the Force Reserve Company, based at Camp Ziouani the operational headquarters. The Irish unit was part of an overall UNDOF Mission strength of 789 troops, plus 140 civilian personnel, (50 international and 90 local). Other states contributing military personnel to the mission included Bhutan, Fiji Islands, India, Netherlands and Nepal. The UNDOF mission is under the command of Major General Jai Shanker Menon of India, who is Head of Mission and Force Commander. Since September 2014, an Irish officer, Brigadier General Tony Hanlon, has occupied the post of Deputy Force Commander, which has been extended at the request of the UN.
Soldiers from 16 counties around Ireland were represented in the 52nd Infantry Group, including 19 local personnel from County Louth. For 44 of them, it was their first tour of duty overseas. The youngest person deployed was a 21 year old from the 28th Infantry Battalion, Pte Ryan Kay, while Cpl Paula Burcheal was the female with the most overseas tours, as this was her 4th tour of duty overseas. One member, Sergeant Major Derek Lamb, who is in his 41st year of service with the Defence Forces, had 21 overseas tours already completed. Other members also had previous service overseas and between them, they had accumulated approximately 272 tours of duty with overseas missions.
UNDOF was established on 31st May 1974, by United Nations Security Council Resolution 350. The force was established following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights earlier that month following the Yom Kippur war. UNDOF’s role is to supervise the implementation of the disengagement agreement, maintaining an area of separation between the Israeli and Syrian forces. Since 1974, the mandate of UNDOF has been renewed every six months and was most recently renewed by the Security Council, at its 7726th meeting, on 29th June 2016 and runs until 31st December 2016. The continued support of troop contributing countries such as Ireland to the mission is vital to allow it to continue the implementation of its mandate, as is the requirement for the Secretary-General to ensure that UNDOF has the required capacity and resources, to fulfil that mandate, in a safe and secure way. In this regard he is required to report every 90 days on developments in the situation and the measures taken to implement the Security Council resolution. UNDOF plays a vital role in preventing an escalation of tensions between Israel and Syria and in maintaining the cessation of hostilities between both parties over the last 40 years. However, the escalation of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic has affected the UNDOF area of operations significantly in the last two years.
Boeing 737-8Q8, OK-TVG of SmartWings was used for the rotation of 52th Infantry Group to Ireland and their replacement by the 54th Infantry Group. The aircraft positioned into Dublin from Paris (CDG) just after midnight on 5th October. It subsequently departed with the 54th Infantry Group to Tel Aviv as the QS-4424 at 04:04, where it landed at 11:05 (local). The aircraft left Tel Aviv at 12:56 as the QS-4425 and landed back in Dublin at 16:23 some 100 minutes later than planned. It then positioned to Kassel at 18:12.
The 54th Infantry Group have been intensively training for their deployment to the Golan Heights and on 12th of September; they completed their Mission Readiness Exercise in the Glen of Imaal, in the presence of Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Mr Paul Kehoe and Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM. This was the final phase of three months of intensive training in preparation for their deployment and the exercise put commanders and soldiers through a series of demanding scenarios, based on potential threats that may be encountered in the mission area. In the exercise troops were asked to secure, extract and evacuate personnel involved in a complex attack.
The 54th Infantry Group is also making history, as its commander Lieutenant Colonel Mary Carroll, is the first woman to lead a group of soldiers on an overseas mission. She said she was “very privileged to be in command,” adding “I’m delighted to see the Defence Forces is recruiting women. Our new recruitment drive has been very positive. More women can see this is a viable career.”
She previously commanded the 1st Battalion in Galway and joined the Army as a cadet in the mid-1980s, after graduating from UCD with a degree in Social Science, becoming just one of three women, in a class of 47 cadets. The second oldest of a family of eight, she grew up in Ballinlough, Co. Mayo, where her father ran a garage and her late mother was a home-maker. Her family always valued education and she continued her studies after joining the army, with the aim of setting up personnel support services in the Defence Forces, spending five months with the US air force, as part of her training. She was subsequently assigned to fulltime military duties, serving in a number of roles in infantry battalions in Collins Barracks and in Defence Forces HQ in Newbridge, Co. Kildare.
The return of the 52th Infantry Group to Ireland and their replacement by the 54th Infantry Group is another important chapter in Ireland’s commitment to International Peacekeeping and its valuable contribution to peace and security in the region. The decision by Government to send troops overseas is not taken lightly. Their safety and the safety of all Irish Defence Forces personnel serving on all overseas missions, is always the primary concern and the ability to protect the health and safety of personnel, is the deciding factor for the Defence Forces and Government, when considering any mission.