08 August, 2006

UNHCR "simulated" mission

27-07-2006 – Austrian Army

We were divided up into groups of 5, debriefed on a fictitious situation in a fictitious country where there is a war between the Oberlanders and the Sudlanders. We were UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee's) peace keepers and our mission was to get to the UN Headquarters which was in the “no fire” zone between the 2 places.

After every exercise our assigned Army Major would have us get together and we would go over the pros and cons of our actions.

Exercise 1 (Oberlander Children): We started out in 2 army jeeps (5 students per jeep). We were stopped by young children sitting in the road. They were begging for water and they approached the vehicle, started putting their little arms in the windows and began to climb all over the jeeps. When I saw three of them on the hood of the jeep, my first thought was to drive forward a little then slam on the breaks; they would fall off, we could back up and drive around them…I was told later that was not a very humanitarian thing to do! Well we couldn’t get them off and if you have ever tried to persuade a stubborn child to do something they don’t want to you can understand the dilemma we were in. Our “commander” N got out of the car and tried to gently lift one of the kids off of the roof. At that point the parents came out of the trees with weapons and demanded to know what we were doing to their children. Major R took N and the commander of the 2nd jeep and they “negotiated” with the parents and we were soon on our way. We stopped shortly down the road to go over the map and the 2 "commanders" got into an argument about where we should go. I couldn’t believe these 2 “grown-up’s” were shouting at each other. Of course I got involved and tried to break up the yelling, when they wouldn't stop shouting at each other, the Major stepped in and took them aside. Although simulated, the exercises felt real since we were in full army gear, boots and we were hot and tired. That was the first introduction of stress that overwhelmed us.

Exercise 2 (Non violent illegal road block): I was then given the “commander” position of jeep 1 and N2 for Jeep 2. On our way to the UN camp, we were supposed to “check out” a “suspicious area” and report back to “Charlie” on the radio on any findings. My car was first and we came upon “Oberlander Militia” (about 20 guys in military uniforms who were shouting, blocking the road and fully clad with weapons.) We radio’s to the other jeep to hang back and not follow us down the road. The militia stopped us and demanded to know what our purpose was on that road. They asked the driver (a local guy we contracted to drive us) as to who was in charge and the driver pointed to me. This guy came to my window and asked what purpose we had being there. He said he spoke English, but it was hard getting my point across. He then asked where we were going and what we were doing in this area”. Since I couldn’t explain it to him with words, I had to get out and show him the map. I was nervous as hell getting out of the safety of the vehicle; especially by myself. I explained by talking slowly and pointing to the UN Headquarters on the map. He then said that we had made a wrong turn and he would let us go on our way if we went back to the main road. My feelings were mixed as on one hand I knew this was “not a real situation” but on the other hand it seemed so realistic; I was in the middle of a big mess and was responsible for many other lives.

Exercise 3 (mine field): Using the maps, we soon found the 2nd place we were told to check out. We entered an area and right away saw mine markers. We had been told that there may be live mines in the area, but there was not any definite proof of this. We noticed the mine markers and continued on in the jeep. I was still in charge…maybe because I didn’t get anyone killed in the previous exercise, ha ha and told everyone to look out the windows and tell me if they see anything. We saw many signs of mines (rocks, tape, can on a stick, etc.) and then I saw a “live mine” at which point we should have radio’s to Charlie and left the area, but I was so excited that I spotted one that I forgot to tell the driver to stop. M saw one and said loudly that we should stop. The driver did so and we sat there for awhile to discuss the situation. With "live mines" in the area, we knew it was not safe to go any further, but we couldn't really turn around safely either. While we were stopped our jeep was hit by a detonated bomb. Car 2 meanwhile had been instructed via radio from our car to stay back and not to enter the area. The Major ran over to the car and handed us photos of what we “looked like” after the bomb. I had lost my left eye, had blood allover and was in shock. Mk had his legs blown off at the knee, M had her pinky finger almost ripped off and the driver had a small head cut. (
N and Ms were unharmed). I started yelling and grabbed my face (I’m a good actress) Mk was yelling about his legs…or lack thereof. The jeep was kind of in chaos as N tried to radio the information to “Charlie” and the other jeep. Those in back (I was in the front with the driver) opened the first aid kit and realized that there was nothing inside it. (Oops…a supply check would have been nice before we left!) We had to improvise with other things (scarves for my head, jackets tied to Mk’s legs, my bandana for M’s finger and a small piece of cloth for the drivers head. We heard via radio that help would be on the way but that it would take an hour or more because it would take that long to “clear the area” for mines and for help to reach us. It was hot in the car and I heard loud voices from the back of the vehicle as stress started replacing the adrenaline rush previously felt. As “commander” I started giving instructions from the front seat although in reality I would not have been able to do so. The 2nd car could not help us since there were mines and other explosives everywhere. We had to wait it out (about 20 minutes) for the “rescue team” to save us, although in a reality situation it would have taken up to 2+ hours. After the exercise the major inspected our vehicle and the evaluation was not good. Mk surely would have bled to death and since no one had addressed my shock, I was probably a goner as well. Had I not been the one who had an eye blown off, I am confident that all would have survived under my care…but of course being a bit egocentric; those thoughts come natural to me...in the end, I can admit that I was at fault for not having the driver stop when the first live mine was spotted….It won’t happen again!

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