08 August, 2006

UNHCR "simulation" cont...

27-07-2006 - Austrian Army

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Exercise 4 (Crossfire): M (my vehicle) and S (vehicle 2) were commanders at this time. The UN Headquarters were under fire from both groups, it was not safe for us to go there and we would have to take an alternative route. Jeep 2 was in the lead this time and we came upon the Oberlanders and the Sudlanders shooting at each other on opposite hills above the road we were on. Since we knew that we may be entering a hostile area, we had already put on our protective vests and helmets (adding another 10 pounds to our already weighted body. We immediately got down in the car (guys first of course!!! therefore leaving room on the floor for only my head and shoulders; the major informed me later that my ass could have gotten blown off). After awhile the shooting was only coming from the right, so it was safe to exit the vehicles and lie down on the left sides. Jeep 2 evacuated and S began waving the only weapons UN workers are allowed to have…a blue vest signifying our status. She started yelling that we were UNHCR to let the shooters know we were innocent. One of our comrades (from the other car) was lying on the ground when my group evacuated our vehicle. No one was helping him and I yelled at N to tell me what was wrong with him. She said he was dead and I said “how do you know” and she said he was shot in their car and had a head wound. I was yelling to see if anyone had checked him to see if he was really dead or just unconscious. No one responded (it was a bit chaotic) so I checked him (basically by asking him if he was dead to which he replied “no, the major said I was just unconscious”). I was pissed that no one had checked him, but then “the shooting” started again and we had to get the hell out of there. I grabbed 2 guys (before they could run off and leave me, a tendency they have) and had them help me carry the "unconscious" victim to safety. With the altitude and all the gear we were wearing it felt like he weighed 300 pounds. We finally got to safety and everyone just collapsed. The major met us and of course told us a list of things we “should have done”. Mistakes are part of any learning process. We could have sat in a classroom for 3 months “learning” what we should and should not do in certain situations, but theory and reality are much different concepts. Learning hands on is much more effective.

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After that experience we went to our sleeping quarters for the night; a far-cry-from-comfort bunker in the side of a hill consisting of one room and two “shelves” for beds along the back. (one on top of the other, like long bunkbeds). The bunker was cement, cold and dark, had no electricity and a bathroom consisting of a toilet on a “throne”. After doing your, ahem...”business” on the throne, you dump a large scoop of this dirt powder stuff into the hole, which is to kill the smell, I guess. We unloaded our huge backpacks and I surveyed my surroundings. With 10 of us in the bunker the sleeping arrangement was slowly taking shape in my head. I got organized on the bottom “bunk” between M and S (known non-snorers). We then headed up a hill to eat our seemingly regurgitated canned dinner (including bread in a can that lasts 10 years and the expiration date was 12-2006...) After dinner we went back to the bunker and I got more organized…as best I could. Then it was back up the hill to be informed about the next exercises…by now it is around 8:30 and all I can think about is bed, but the humanitarians never sleep so we were drilled on what to do in case of fire and/or an evacuation. It was then back to our bunker (at this point the walking up and down that hill was really wearing me out from the altitude and full day’s work).

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About ½ hour later, we were summoned outside for the fire drill. We grabbed flashlights, radios and the fire extinguisher and attempted to run back up the same frickin’ hill we just came from. The guys ran ahead (as usual) leaving the super women females to grab the necessities and very heavy fire extinguisher. We then went back down the hill after getting the okay by the major. After the fire drill, we had to go through the evacuation drill; grab our heavy backpacks this time and back up the dreaded hateful hill! On the way down, I really thought my stomach was trying to rid itself of the ancient bread that was congeling in its debths. I managed to keep it down and retreated to the bunker and then we were summoned to go as a whole group to look through night vision equipment. Of course they couldn't have just done this while we were already 1/2 way there.

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We climbed this really really high hill in the dark along a really small rocky unstable path. I enjoyed the crisp night air and the hike, but I was so very tired from everything that I just wanted to sit down when I reached the top. We looked through goggles, binoculars, but I passed on examining the night vision on some rocket launcher weapon (I am a peace student by the way). We finally headed back down the hill and I was the first in line to go down behind 2 military guys, who I enjoyed joking with as the gap between we three and the rest of the group deepened. I was in desperate need to get away from the peace group even for a little while. I had not been getting my precious much needed “alone time”. While climbing down the mountain (at this point it was no longer a hill) I looked back at the group making their way single file down the mountain. The single file slow movements of the flashlights in the darkness looked like a bunch of zombies in a B movie or something…or maybe my mind was as tired as my body at this point. We then settled in for the night (It was past midnight), ready for our evacuation awakening.

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