“Peacekeeping is not a job for soldiers, but only soldiers can do it,” former United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold once said.
And it’s a quote Norwegian Army Col. Ingrid Gjerde, who served in peacekeeping operations in Lebanon in 1994 and 1995, likely won’t forget.
Peacekeeping is not something she or most of the international officers attending the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle trained for, but it’s an important part of protecting human rights all around the world.
And on Wednesday, the War College recognized the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers with a ceremony, which included several international students who had served on such missions.
About 3,000 U.N. peacekeepers died in countries all around the world as they walked the fine line of being a stabilizing force, and keeping the peace.
Col. Jody Petery, who heads the War College’s Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, pointed out international officers make up about 20 percent of the War College’s class, and many of them have served on these types of operations.
Memorial Day, honoring American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice, had just passed, he said, and felt it was appropriate, too, to recognize the service of so many others.
“They’re doing a tremendous service throughout the world,” he said.
War College Commandant Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo said peacekeepers face great risk as they put themselves between former warring factions.
“Peacekeeper – it’s a noble role,” Cucolo told the crowd at Wednesday’s ceremony. “It requires unquestioned credibility and warrior skills.”
He said the job also requires strong leaders and soldiers, “who have a reflexive desire to enforce basic human rights and simple justice.”
And a strong belief they can make a positive difference in the world.
Since the U.N. was chartered in 1948, there have been 70 peacekeeping missions around the world, and Ghana’s Army Col. Alhassan Abu spent six of the last 11 years in such missions in places like Lebanon, Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
When many pulled out of Rwanda, he said Ghana stayed behind, and if it wasn’t for them, many more women and children would have been killed.
A peacekeeper’s job entails much – protecting lives and property, supplying food and water, clearing landmines – and it’s important to recognize those who gave their lives doing the job.
“It helps to remember the importance of peacekeepers so their sacrifices are not made in vain,” Abu said.
Canadian Army Col. Marc Gagne served was a reconnaissance platoon commander in 1992, and was among the first United Nations peacekeepers to enter Croatia, and later Bosnia.
“Peacekeeping is different than war fighting,” Gagne said. “You are between two or three factions and a population that is very tired of war. You’re there to bring hope to the population.“
It takes diplomacy, and is a balancing act of neutrality.
Peacekeeping might not exactly be what soldiers train for, Gjerde said, but said the quote she cited is true — it does take a soldier.
It takes a solider to go into hostile situations, and make a difference in people’s lives, she said. There are currently 120,000 peacekeepers involved in 17 missions around the world.
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