A little over a month ago I received an email from a fellow in a region new to Aussie Heroes.  He had seen an article about our efforts in the Defence News and wrote to ask if it was possible for those currently deployed on Operation Aslan in South Sudan to receive quilts.  Well, I did what I always do when I receive a request out of the blue like this.  I did some research and I became fascinated, but also very much convinced that these guys need to know that we are proud of them as well.

We are a growing organisation and while we cannot expand to include every overseas deployment at the moment or we will stretch our resources too thin, I am sure we can fit those in South Sudan into our list.

It turns out there are only 19 personnel deployed as part of a United Nations Mission to South Sudan.  There can be up to 25.  There are Navy, Army and Air Force personnel on this deployment. The majority of personnel are located in the capital, Juba but there are quite a few , including my correspondent, who are spread through other regions within the country. 

 Below is an excerpt from the defence.gov.au website:

Operation ASLAN is the deployment of Australian Defence Force personnel to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The Operation formally started on 23 September 2011. ADF personnel transitioned to Operation ASLAN from Operation AZURE, the ADF contribution to the former United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
On 9 July 2011, the Republic of South Sudan became the newest country in the world, following a six-year peace process than began with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. The new United Nations Mission in South Sudan was established to support the new Republic of South Sudan to build a viable and secure future for its people. UNMISS will help establish conditions for nation-building and development in South Sudan.

The Australian Government has offered an ADF contingent of up to 25 personnel to Operation ASLAN, to be engaged in key headquarters positions, aviation and logistics support roles, as well as acting as military liaison officers.
If you look at the map above, the capitol Juba, is in the south and I am currently in contact with members in Wau and Bor.

Working with those on a peace keeping mission is different to those on Operation Slipper as I can ask them more questions and they can share more information.  Here is some of what I have learned, most of which has been provided by those currently deployed.

Essentially, peacekeepers monitor and observe peace processes in post-conflict areas and assist ex-combatants in implementing the peace agreements. 

The climate in South Sudan is quite extreme and would be similar to the environment in Katherine in the Northern Territory as an example. The country is extremely poor and under developed after many years of neglect. The road infrastructure is very poor and only about 8 km of road is paved in the capital Juba. Most roads are impassable in the wet season so the mission is heavily reliant upon movement of freight and passengers by UN aircraft.

I found that rather disconcerting after reading this article

The country is still very unstable from a security perspective and there are occasional clashes in the border regions with Sudan. There is also regular conflict between the various tribal groups of South Sudan fighting over cattle, grazing and farming land.  Another article worth reading here.

Accommodation for ADF personnel varies. The personnel in Juba share a ramshackle house which also serves as a transit point (like a backpackers) for the other ADF personnel throughout the country. Personnel in regional areas of South Sudan generally live in UN camps in demountable type accommodation and share with other UN international personnel.  Some members are lucky enough to get their own single container. One of my correspondents is currently sharing a room with 2 Chinese Policeman and a Nepalese civilian and is the only Aussie in the area.

The following photos were provide from the township of Wau, north of the capital of Juba.  The fellow in the photo is the one the one who got in contact with me first.  In spite of the green uniform he is actually in the RAAF and works in Movement Control. 

Local Hardware Store – Bunnings eat your heart out!

 M18 helicopter

 M126 helicopters – can you imagine how that dust gets into everything!

 Passenger Waiting Area – Nice!  Isn’t that razor wire a welcoming touch!

 Sunset in Wau

The next lot of photos are from Torit and were provided by a Navy member.  He is a Military Liaison Officer in the area.

He sent the following to share with us.

I have been in transit accommodation since arriving on the 26th Nov and expect to remain there for at least a couple of weeks until either a container is allocated to me or I re-deploy to the CSB at Kapoeta from Torit.

In that time I’ve had to move from ‘good transit’ to ‘bad transit’ and been alone for a couple of nights and shared with one to four others also.

Good Transit

Bad Transit

We can get food from the Tukul, but staple diet is: rice, potatoes, beans and beef or chicken for lunch and dinner, everyday. I have not been able to cook for myself yet, but the rest of my gear (including food and cooking gear) arrived a couple of days back and if I can stay put for a couple of nights will set up a basic galley in my room.

Torit Tukul

The ablutions which are basic, yet functional, are shared and by day’s end are an unhygienic mess and as the door is often left open, filled with insects including mosquitos.

The washing station is where all washing is done (hand washing of clothing or dishes) as there is no communal kitchen.

(What?  No dishwasher?)

The following photos are from Bor from a female Army member who is also deployed as a Military Liaison Officer.  She is not the only Aussie in her location – just the only female Aussie.  She wrote the following-

I arrived in Bor on Monday 3 Dec and was allocated my transit room, not bad but leaks when it rains. It has four beds and being the only tenant its quite roomy and its nice to have some privacy. Its likely to be this way for at least two – three weeks as not to many females come through Bor. I expect I will be moved to permanent accommodation and have to share. The ablution block is about 150 metres from the container and is average and hot. Some users are not always respectful and that is untidy.   I make my own brekkie which is usually muesli and then for lunch I go to Cafe1 where you have the daily choice of chicken, fish and beef with boiled potato, cabbage and pasta; the same choice everyday but at least it is one semi decent meal a day. Until I get a permanent room its difficult to cook so for the evening meal its usually noodles.  

(What are you having for dinner tonight.  One email I received from this lady told me she was off to make her dinner –  I had better sign off as have to go and cook my dinner, maybe it will be noodles and instant mash potato and dehydrated peas….)

The washing room is basic as you would expect with washing machines but you have to get in early to beat the rush.  Usually I do my hand washing and hang up on my make shift washing line outside my container, forget modesty everyone sees it, ha-ha!   Generally the facilities are basic but work.  Bor is a small base and everyone helps everyone, its a nice community. 

The following photos and words are from another army gent, also a Military Liaison Officer.

I traveled to Malakal from Juba on 25 Nov and had to stay there for three days in a transient container before going to Nassir on 28 Nov. Upon arrival to Nassir, I was given a crappy container but was told that this is just a temporary one since one of the UNPOL will check out on 3 Dec.   

Now I am occupying this container. 

 I think life here is better, since the market is about 800m from the UN base and there are always fresh fish. The CSB kitchen suits us. Mafi Mushkla (no problem).  

 There are two washing machines working but no dryers are operational. This is fine as we dry our clothes under the sun. Usually 3 hours exposure is enough.   

We play soccer every afternoon with the Indians (TCC members) as part of our daily exercise. I have scored about three goals since I’ve arrived, I didn’t think I can still play that well, probably just a lucky week for me. 

When I wrote to my new RAAF friend to him we would add them to our list he said –

Everyone is really excited and appreciative of your efforts to include us.   
In some respects these peacekeeping jobs can be just as difficult as those on Operation Slipper.  We are probably not as well supported as those on Slipper but we are not on the receiving end of rockets and bullets either.  In saying that the environment is quite volatile throughout South Sudan.  Overall everyone is coping well with the conditions. We are fed and watered, have a roof over our head and a bed to sleep in each night which is a lot more than a significant proportion of the population of this country.  

On average the mail takes 3-4 weeks. 

And this is some of the feedback from my new Army friend  – I just have to say first that she is around the same age as me and  boy!  is she more adventurous.   She has shared some of her weekly updates with me and I can’t share them here as she is out on patrol without internet contact for the next two weeks on patrol so I cannot get her permission.  Let’s just say that the places she goes to are BASIC.  She has shared that she takes her hand sanitizer with her everywhere and so far has not been ill.  I have made her quilt myself and can I tell you I stitched some extra TLC into as I am filled with admiration for her!

Firstly, may I say a big thank you for doing this and supporting the ADF boys and girls. It is such a wonderful gesture. When I was first  told of your offer I was truly touched and thrilled to think people at home are still doing this kind of support. I can tell you it is really appreciated and makes me proud to be an Australian.
Though I have only been on deployment for only five weeks one still gets a tad homesick but it also makes you appreciate your own country. We are so very lucky for what we have. 
 Be assured though I’m in South Sudan I will be using the quilt at night as I freeze. You will see when I send you a photo that I am a tall and thin lady, so not much meat on the bones to keep me warm, ha-ha. The laundry bag will also be very handy as that is one thing I didn’t pack, as had only three weeks notice for the deployment so the packing was done in a rush.
I also know the guys in Juba are looking forward to receiving their quilts, they were like kids at Christmas when they were told, so you and your team are doing a great job, thank you!

These guys did not and do not receive an abundance of care packages like those that are sent to Operation Slipper.   They didn’t get the turkey, lobster and all the trimmings for Christmas either. The two that I am in contact with have described Christmas as low key.  One said they managed to scrape together ten people for a barbecue at night.  In the other area they got to watch Mission Impossible 3 and also had a barbecue and the temperature on the day was around 40-50C.  LOVELY!  NOT!

So, can we support those in South Sudan?

Mafi Mushkla!

No problem!

The reality is that we have already sent several quilts to them.   With mail being as unreliable as it is – 3-6 weeks depending on what flights are available and where you are in the country – I didn’t want to wait till now to start sending so as quilts have become available I have directed them to those that will be coming home from South Sudan earlier than others.  

So, there you have it – a new frontier.  
I hope to expand into other “frontiers” as the year passes but not all at once and not in a hurry; only as I am convinced that we can cope with it.  

Note – Before I get yelled at for including abbreviations without explanation I am trying to find out what they mean – will let you know when I do. 🙂

Till next time……………..keep spreading the word and happy stitching!