Galway soldiers will be heading on a new United Nations mission next week with the 54th Infantry.
This seventh Irish infantry to have been deployed to the volatile Golan Heights - the war-torn area held by both Syria and Israel - is led by Roscommon’s Lt Col Mary Carroll who is the first woman to lead an Irish Defence Forces contingent on a UN mission.
Ahead of its departure, the Minister with Special Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe TD, accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mellett, was in Galway this week to review the unit.
“The ministerial review is a very important day for the unit as it marks the culmination of all training and validation undertaken prior to deployment,” says Lieutenant Cillian Browne. “It is also a special day for the families of the troops travelling as they get to be part of the occasion as well.”
The 54th infantry, which is a composite unit established for the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF ), has been preparing for this mission with exercises in the Renmore/ Oranmore area, and in Wicklow.
“Over the last few months we have been preparing all the basic tactics, techniques and procedures that we will need,” says Lt Browne. “These include helicopter drills, mine awareness, counterID, ambush drills, and airstrikes with live fire tactical scenarios.
“At the minute it is quite a volatile situation. The Irish contingent is responsible for deploying the quick reaction force which must respond within 15 minutes’ notice to any complex situation in the area of separation at the request of the First Commander.”
Officer Commanding Lt Col Carroll says the infantry is “good to go”.
“We have a lot of people who have served overseas before, in addition to 35 youngsters on their first trip,” she says. “The theatre into which we are deploying is a significant one on the world stage, and we feel risks are inevitable and dangers are expected. But we have been training really hard for that, and all the contingencies we will meet we have rehearsed and trained for, so there will be no surprises, I hope.
“It is very special for me as someone from the west of Ireland and with the barracks here in Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa on the Wild Atlantic Way, so we are very proud to host this ministerial review right in the heart of Galway city rather than somewhere else.”
The Irish will be based at two locations - the main UNDOF headquarters at Camp Ziouani, and also another outpost occupied by about 30 Irish soldiers along with their Fijian counterparts.
“The majority of soldiers would have had experience of working alongside United Nations personnel in Lebanon,” says Lt Browne. “The mandate in the Golan Heights is to maintain a credible presence and observe the disengagement between the two forces.”
The 54th infantry has been drawn from Galway’s First Infantry Battalion of which Lt Col Carroll was the commanding officer. It comprises 130 soldiers of all ranks, including a chaplain and 14 officers, and represents 25 counties. Among the infantry are some well known sporting heroes, including Tipperary hurler Padraic Bonner-Maher and Waterford senior footballer Lt Grainne Kenneally. The youngest soldier is Pte Rebecca Coogan who is 21.