“TO HELL & BACK” SPECIAL FORCES ULTIMATE HELLWEEK

Sticky

As published in the July/August 2019 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald, photos by DF Personnel and some photos courtesy of RTÉ/Motive Television

An Cosantoir Magazine Jul/Aug 2019

Now that we have looked at the physical and mental training and commitment it takes to become an Army Ranger Wing (ARW) Assault Team Operator in the previous article – imagine developing that training and condensing it into an 8-day selection course that would seek out 24 of Ireland’s fittest candidates for a brand-new factual format TV programme?

That’s what the Motive Television producers of Special Forces – Ultimate Hell Week, which aired in April, and May on RTÉ 2 put to four former ARW Assault Team Operators. Motive is an IFTA Award-winning television company specialising in producing factual entertainment shows and documentaries like The Notorious: The Series (RTÉ 2), and Toughest Place To Be (RTÉ 1). Motive’s Hell Week producer Jamie D’Alton said, “The four Directing Staff (DS) Ray Goggins, Alan O’Brien, Ger Reidy and Robert Stafford were absolutely incredible. Elite soldiers and seriously impressive men, who gave viewers a unique and privileged insight into what it takes to become a member of the ARW. This was a big call for them to get involved in, not only were they representing themselves and their families, they became the public face of the ARW and Ireland’s Special Forces. It was a significant responsibility.”

Production crew with Cpl Paul Magee AR second from the left, and Recruit Tiernan O’Rourke AR (both 7 Inf Bn) is far right. Photo: Paul Magee

Jamie then explained, “From the production side, it was a huge undertaking: nothing like this had been attempted in Ireland before. Between casting the 24 candidates, building the sets and filming… With more than 50 crew working 21-hours a day, for 9-days straight, in the worst imaginable weather, it took a huge effort from the entire team to pull it off.”

In getting the former ARW operatives to undertake the task Jamie explained, “From the outset they said the series had to be a robust and realistic representation of selection. At times this intensity probably shocked viewers, but ultimately it made for compelling television; a raw, honest telling of what members of Ireland’s military go through to become ARW unit members. The most ambitious aspect of the series was the decision for production staff not to directly engage with the candidates. From the moment they stepped off that bus on Day 1 it truly felt like they were on selection. It was amazing how quickly they forgot about the cameras and became fully immersed in the experience.”

Reserve Defence Forces (RDF), Cpl Paul Magee AR, 7 Inf Bn was a member of the production team, “After 10-years in the reserves and working in television, I was well suited to work on this show. The extreme conditions faced by the candidates had to be endured by the crew. The schedule left some of us with as little sleep as the candidates. Operating a camera in sub-zero temperatures with driving rain and snow is always a challenge, especially as its more delicate than a rifle. The physicality required by the candidates was astronomical, it surpassed anything I have ever seen the DF and bearing in mind none of them had any military experience, their performance had to be applauded.”

“If I don’t see you improve immediately I’m going to f*ck you right up.” Ray Goggins sets the tempo in the opening scene.

Hell Week’s 24 candidates (18 men and 6 women) arrived in TIS Kilbride Camp in Co Wicklow by bus. Here they met the Directing Staff for the first time, who brought them into their world very quickly – by having them strip to their underwear in the freezing rain. The next few episodes showed back-to-back tasks coming at them as they are pushed to their limits – within 24hrs six candidates are eliminated. A snow blizzard hits the camp where the remaining 15 candidates start to show signs of increasing fatigue. The remaining episodes see the candidates attempt to overcome physically demanding tasks, and the DS do more psychological games to see who will crack, until we get down to the last five candidates to see who has what it takes to survive and pass Special Forces – Ultimate Hell Week selection.

Candidates get acclimatised in Kilbride Camp.

Hell Week’s Directing Staff all lived the high-octane life as Special Forces Operators for many years. Their experience of passing selection and being able to spot weaknesses in the candidates was there to see. It’s not just about shouting, swearing or trying to impose your presence on a candidate – it’s knowing when to do so and making sure the candidate can take the pressure and will respond to it; by either breaking and ‘Dropping Out’ (DO) or taking the pressure, biting down and doing better. Like most DF training courses there is always what we would call the ‘grey man’ or woman, the person who stays in the shadows and not coming to the eye of the DS. Then the opposite, the ‘heat seeker’ and Hell Week had a few of them too, some came to their attention straight after getting off the bus. So we got to ask them about their views on Hell Week.

#14 Grace O’Rourke gets to grips with ‘Scratch’.

Robert Stafford, 22-years’ service, 2 Inf Bn with 17-years in ARW. He is currently working in the private security sector for Detail Security Consultants with a lot of international work. “We wanted to stay as true to the Irish ARW selection process, this leaned more to the old course which we did. Selection is a phase-based process which is over 9-months which might not relate to TV as easily.”

Ger Reidy, 23-years’ service, 2 FAR, with 20-years in the ARW. He is currently working in the private security sector for Detail Security Consultants with the majority of time working abroad. “We were determined that it had to mirror or be close to the selection process that the unit go through.  We were also sacrificing a lot in our personal lives especially for the type of work we do in civilian world, so it had to be right from the off.”

Ray Goggins, 26-years’ service, 4 Inf Bn, with 17-years in ARW. He is currently working in the private security sector with a lot of international work. “Like the others I didn’t watch the other similar shows, so that we kept it to our own style and true to the old selection process.”

Alan O’Brien, 21-years’ service, 4 Inf Bn, with 11-years in ARW. He is currently working as a Programme Coordinator in the School of Medicine at University College Cork.“The show must as far as possible be an accurate reflection of what is required to become a member of the ARW.”

“A mé féiner is it, well it f*cking looks that way to me!” – Ger Reidy putting it to #4 Des Seepersad.

Looking at early candidates and if they could see anyone passing selection, Robert said, “#21 Dimitry Vinokurov was very quiet, but completed every task without coming to our attention. #3 Michael Keogh was a very strong candidate but could overbear some of the others who were in appointment.”

Ger added, “I thought #16 Ray Kenny had a really good chance of finishing it out. He came across really strong. #12 Michael O’Shea was doing really well – switched on and well rounded. However, he dislocated his knee during the Unarmed Combat phase.”

Ray continued, “For me #3 Michael Keogh performed very well on the ‘Scratch’ task, he was keeping them going at times, when they needed it – and then he was taken out on the river crossing.”

Alan O’Brien gives #9 Paul Ward the silent treatment.

Alan said, “It’s not unusual for a candidate who is near the back in some of the tests to be still standing at the end, as was the case with #14 Grace”

We then looked at the different tasks, Robert said, “The bridge jump and the foreman/aftman 20k weighed forced march were my favourites; the bridge jump tests a number of fears, like heights, water and of course there’s the cold factor. The foreman/aftman is all down to the individual commitment to finish. You have the weight, the uncertainty of not knowing where the finish line is and then there’s the good old Irish weather, which was blowing a gale on the day – I came very close to calling this event off.”

Ger added, “I like the pipe crawl, you know straight away whether a person will do the challenge or not. It really takes you out of your comfort zone. Claustrophobia it one of many things we look for during selection and the pipe will show that.”

Ray agreed, “The foreman/aftman was my preferred task, as mentioned, they don’t know how well they are doing on times, distance – you just have to keep going and pushing on. Also, the unarmed combat really shocked the candidates, we intended to put them in an uncomfortable position which reflects combat.

A candidate is brought in for a ‘chat’.

Ger continued, “The unarmed combat was difficult because some never had to physically confront someone – now we were asking them to fight each other when they had just made friends.”

Alan added, “The casualty evacuation task in Fort Davis was a SOF hostage rescue mission, and is designed to test their physical and mental strength, leadership, teamwork, situational awareness, decision-making…”

Looking at the eventual winners, Robert said, “I thought #14 Grace would get through, she never complained, always tried to help others while being a real team player. She continued to put her head down and just keep going and that is one of the keys to passing. #4 Des was a very level-headed and clear-thinking candidate, he was constant all the way through, but near the end caught our eye for a couple of reasons.”

“Do you want to go home? – I think you do!” – Robert Stafford

Ger added, “#14 Grace is what we would call the grey man or women. She never really stood out till the later stages. She helped others out a lot, good team player, never complained and she had a really good attitude toward the whole process. #4 Des seemed to be very strong in all the challenges and throughout, he’s fairly switched on. Yes, near the later stages he came to our attention but he pulled through to finish.”

Ray made the point, “Any one of the last five candidates could have passed, some were taken out on the interrogation task – which surprised us.”

Alan agreed, “#14 Grace was the typical course ‘grey person’, once she passed foreman/aftman she had a good chance of succeeding, as her mental strength was obviously her strongest asset. #4 Des was a strong candidate right from the start, both physically and mentally. He had a very difficult day in Fort Davis, but recovered well to produce a strong finish.”

Keep the weapons at a 45-degree angle.

Finally, is there a season 2? Robert said, “We are talking it through at the moment. If people think there’s a ‘Cut’ and everyone just starts acting at any phase of the show’s production, I assure you there isn’t.”

Ger added, “The show’s success was really down to Jamie and his crew – never once did we shoot anything a second time as that’s not how it goes on selection. For season 2 we would be looking at keeping the same tasks but with different dynamics…”

Alan made a good point, “The show gave a small glimpse of what it takes to become an ARW SOF Operator. Most DF members would have undertaken similar challenges in their career and I hope that the show’s success will raise public awareness of the commitment and training that is required of DF members.”

#11 John Kenny in the water.

We then met up with Hell Week’s finalists, #18 Mark Cushen a member of An Garda Síochána explained how they had no interaction with the film crews and that was a rule from the outset, “in-doors the cameras were fixed to locations so they were not in your face.” #11 John Kenny Firefighter/Paramedic added, “It’s as real as they could make it – I reckon I got a total of 15hrs sleep throughout the week!”

His Firefighter/Paramedic colleague #16 Ray Kenny added, “We had no watches or clocks to know exactly what time of day or night it was – only the orderly sergeant had one to use so we knew what time to be outside at – it wasn’t synchronised to real-time.”

#14 Grace O’Rourke explained, “All the candidates were very physically fit going in.”

They explained about also doing a night sentry duty in helmet and weapon ‘bar’ on the billet door, which was divided amongst the candidates – who were dropping out daily.

They only had two sets of clothing, “we copped on quick to number our kit, and grab something dry for the next task!” one of them quipped. Ray added, “our boots were never dry, that’s why we wore flipflops in the billet,” he then told a great story of his missing flipflop in the snow from the first evening.

We chatted about the great comradery and friendships that have built up amongst them after this challenging experience. They explained they had never met before the show, except to go through the interview and fitness test process where they crossed paths. John said he knew of Ray but they weren’t friends then.

Around 350 applied for the show with approx. 60 selected for the fitness tests before the final 24 had a meeting with the producers and received their briefing and kit list, and they were allowed to break-in their boots before the show started.

John said it was very easy to get sucked into the whole atmosphere of being in a training camp, the not knowing what was coming next kept them on their edge, “you just have to go in and give it 100%,” he said.

Discussing the tasks, Ray and Grace both said the bridge jump, not because of the height, it was the waiting in the freezing cold, “they said it would be warmer in the water, and they were right – I had grown men either side of me shivering, we were all encouraging each other,” she added. Mark added, “I had a bit of luck on the HUET task, I just made it out.”

They all agreed one of the best moments was when #4 Des Seepersad came back into the billet soaking wet and went to the bathroom to get showered and changed without saying what happened. The candidates tried to look at each other and try to figure out what the task was. The DS had him crawl through the pipe with water rushing through which made for some excellent TV, and gave us some great ‘one-liners’ – “Get out of my pipe”. It was also the catalyst for some candidates as their fear of enclosed spaces got the better of them. Another great moment was when John tried to escape during the escape and evasion phase, while everyone else was doing jumping jacks to stay warm.

Asked if they appreciate military training? Ray said, “We all have a more positive view on the Defence Forces and the Army Ranger Wing.”

Grace added, “I completed the An Gaisce Defence Forces Challenge 14-years ago. It was a really great experience and I had my heart set on a career in the Defence Forces. I applied three different times for a cadetship, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”

While it was back to their jobs for the lads, Grace has used the experience to set up her new business www.graceorourke.com, where she offers personal performance programmes.

Congratulations and admiration to Des and Grace for passing Hell Week’s selection course. After the final episode aired Des wrote on his Twitter account, “An honour to take part in and complete the ultimate test to find the ultimate civilian… delighted to be named the biggest legend along with Grace.”

Grace recently told Evoke Magazine about her experience, “Taking part in Hell Week was one of the most difficult and challenging things I’ve ever done, but it taught me so much about myself and has been an invaluable and truly life-changing experience.”

A few final words from Hell Week’s producer Jamie, “The show went down well with audiences, rating really well, with approx. 18% consolidated share, about 200,000 viewers per episode – which is really really strong.

In terms of season 2, there have been some preliminary discussions with RTÉ, but these are at a very early stage. The view would be that it’s only worth going again if we feel we can improve it. Lastly, to the 24 crazy recruits who took on the Hell Week challenge. All legends. All mental. All heroes. I hope all of them can look back on their time up the mountains and laugh about how mad it was, but feel very proud of themselves!”

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

To read more about the Army Ranger Wing, get Shadow Warriors, the real story behind the Army Ranger Wing published by Mercier Press in April 2020.

“In the spring of 1980, the Irish Department of Defence sanctioned the establishment of a new unit within the Irish Defence Forces and the Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) came into being. In the decades that followed, its soldiers have been deployed on active service at home and abroad, generally without the knowledge of the wider public. The ARW is made up of seasoned men from across the island, who are selected through tough competition. Only the best of the best make it through and are trained in an extraordinary range of specialist skills. Being one of these elite operators takes more than simply being a skilled soldier – it means believing you are the best.”

Shadow Warriors

Shadow Warriors tells the story behind the creation of the ARW, from its origins in specialist counter-terrorism training in the late 1960s and the preparation of small unconventional units in the 1970s to the formation of the ARW itself in 1980 and its subsequent history. The first and only authoritative account in the public domain of this specialist unit, authors Paul O’Brien and Sergeant Wayne Fitzgerald have been granted access to the closed and clandestine world of Ireland’s Special Forces, who train hard, fight harder and face unconventional types of warfare, yet prefer to stay out of the limelight.

‘SHADOW WARRIORS’ by PAUL O’BRIEN & WAYNE FITZGERALD 

ISBN: 978-1-78117-762-4 – Price: €12.99 – Also available on Amazon, Book Depository, Waterstones and Easons.com and can be ordered in all book stores.

The Kindle ebook version is available on amazon for €4.20 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-Warriors-Paul-OBrien-ebook/dp/B085VW2P4H

The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) Ireland’s Special Forces

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As published in the July/August 2019 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
Report by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

The Defence Forces Special Forces unit is officially titled as ‘Sciathán Fianóglach an Airm’ and translates as ‘The Army Ranger Wing’ (ARW) – as there is no direct English translation of the term ‘Fianóglach’ so the internationally recognised designation of ‘Ranger’ is used. The word ‘Fianóglach’ links the traditions of the ARW to ‘Na Fianna’, the legendary Irish warriors, with the present-day Óglaigh na hÉireann or Irish Defence Forces. In order to be eligible to undergo the selection process, you must be a serving member of the Defence Forces.

“Glaine ár gCroí, Neart ár nGéag, Agus beart de réir ár mbriathar” (“The cleanliness of our hearts, The strength of our limbs, And our commitment to our promise”)The ARW motto is taken from an old Fianna poem and continues the link with Na Fianna.

The ARW’s roles are divided into conventional warfare offensive operations behind enemy lines, like long-range patrols (LRP), raids, ambushes, sabotage plus other tasks, and specialist aid to the civil power (ATCP) in anti-terrorist taskings including anti-hijack, hostage rescue, airborne and seaborne interventions amongst others. The ARW has also an established role in the advancement of standards within the DF, including testing and evaluation of equipment, organising and participating in training exercises to name a few.

The ARW has significantly revised its selection and assessment procedures for prospective unit members and their selection and basic skills courses have both been combined into a single 36-week Special Operations Force Qualification (SOFQ) Course. SOFQ requires a high level of physical fitness, navigation skills, personal motivation and the aspiration to serve in the ARW. The SOFQ syllabus is designed to test and assess all aspects of the candidate’s character, military skills, ability and general suitability to become a member of the ARW and on successful completion provides the potential unit member with all the skills and knowledge necessary to function in the role of a Special Operations Force (SOF) Assault Team Operator.

The SOFQ course is divided into five distinct modules: The aim of Module One is to assess the candidate’s levels of physical fitness, motivation and suitability to progress onwards. During this phase, all candidates must pass a series of fitness assessments, map reading and individual navigation assessments, claustrophobia, water confidence and psychometric testing in order to progress. The candidate is then assessed further by a series of individual navigation exercises with set weights, but unknown distances and completion times. This culminates in a 60km cross-country march carrying a 65lb combat load. Officer candidates are also subjected to rigorous assessment of their planning and decision-making skills, to assess suitability to achieve a command appointment in the ARW.

Modules Two to Five consists of further training and assessment in areas such as SOF weapons and marksmanship, live-fire tactical training, SOF conventional and Counter-Terrorism TTPS, combat water survival, SERE, communications and medical training. Candidates are awarded the ‘Fianóglach’ tab on successful completion of Module Three and are assigned to the unit. On completion of Module Four, they are awarded the distinctive ARW green beret. On conclusion of the SOFQ course candidates are posted to an operational ARW task unit as an Assault Team Operator and can expect to undertake numerous further training in areas such as advanced medical skills, military freefall, combat diving and boat handling, close protection and advanced weapons skills.

This training would not be well known or publicly advertised, nor would the ARW operatives, who remain in the background in order to protect their identities and that of the unit. Thus, the unit and its members are shrouded in secrecy both within the Defence Forces and to the public.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

To read more about the Army Ranger Wing, get Shadow Warriors, the real story behind the Army Ranger Wing published by Mercier Press in April 2020.

“In the spring of 1980, the Irish Department of Defence sanctioned the establishment of a new unit within the Irish Defence Forces and the Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) came into being. In the decades that followed, its soldiers have been deployed on active service at home and abroad, generally without the knowledge of the wider public. The ARW is made up of seasoned men from across the island, who are selected through tough competition. Only the best of the best make it through and are trained in an extraordinary range of specialist skills. Being one of these elite operators takes more than simply being a skilled soldier – it means believing you are the best.”

Shadow Warriors tells the story behind the creation of the ARW, from its origins in specialist counter-terrorism training in the late 1960s and the preparation of small unconventional units in the 1970s to the formation of the ARW itself in 1980 and its subsequent history. The first and only authoritative account in the public domain of this specialist unit, authors Paul O’Brien and Sergeant Wayne Fitzgerald have been granted access to the closed and clandestine world of Ireland’s Special Forces, who train hard, fight harder and face unconventional types of warfare, yet prefer to stay out of the limelight.

‘SHADOW WARRIORS’ by PAUL O’BRIEN & WAYNE FITZGERALD 

ISBN: 978-1-78117-762-4 – Price: €12.99 – Also available on Amazon, Book Depository, Waterstones and Easons.com and can be ordered in all book stores.

The Kindle ebook version is available on amazon for €4.20 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-Warriors-Paul-OBrien-ebook/dp/B085VW2P4H

Manpower & Mobility Defence Forces provides Aid to Civil Authority (ATCA)

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As published in the April 2018 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
Report by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

On Wednesday 28th February 2018 Storm Emma hit Ireland and collided with the Beast from the East to provide the country with the heaviest snowfall it had seen since 1982. Met Éireann issued a red weather warning to much of Ireland’s east, southeast and midlands in the run-up to the event that initially brought Dublin, Kildare, Louth, Wicklow and Meath to a halt before spreading to much of the rest of the country. Many roads remained impassable until the thaw that began on Monday 5 March reached them.

Parts of Wicklow and Carlow reported 60cm of snowfall, compared to the previous Met Éireann recorded of 45cm at Casement Aerodrome on New Year’s Eve 1962.

During this period of extreme weather, the Defence Forces deployed 1,814 personnel and 533 vehicles in a range of tasks to support the civil authorities, and Tuesday 6th March saw them still operational, clearing snow and ice from towns in County Wexford; Blessington in Wicklow; and Naas and Clane in Kildare.

Defence Forces personnel provided a significant support role in the major emergency response, with deployments across a wide spectrum of activities. ‘Manpower and mobility’ deployments, using 4x4s, and other specialist vehicles, took place in counties Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Donegal, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Louth, Longford, Meath, Offaly, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.

Members of the Defence Forces and Civil Defence provided ambulance services and patient transfers for hospitals, while also helping local authorities to clear roads blocked by the heavy snowfall.

The range of assistance provided was extremely varied and the following list of activities only represents the tip of the iceberg: road clearance in Kildare, Laois, Meath, Waterford and Wexford; transporting HSE staff and patients; transporting people for dialysis treatment; providing paramedic support and ambulance services; transporting midwives and essential staff to the Coombe and Holles St maternity hospitals; carrying out Meals on Wheels runs; supporting the Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade; transporting essential Met Éireann staff; clearing snow and ice from Crumlin Children’s Hospital and Harold’s Cross Hospice; transporting essential Prison Service staff; and providing transportation support to An Garda Síochána.

Members of the Reserve Defence Force were also on hand to help their PDF colleagues, including providing a 6×6 truck to support the ESB’s electricity reconnection works in Cork.

Such a well-coordinated response was enabled to a great degree by a number of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and service-level agreements (SLAs) agreed between the Department of Defence (DoD) and a number of other government departments and agencies as a framework for the provision of services. In this framework, the Defence Forces are seen as a major resource in supporting local authorities on a 24/7 basis during civil emergencies such as severe weather, floods, forest fires, etc.

Lt Col Mark Staunton, OIC Current Operations, J 3/5, DFHQ, says: “ATCA requests from An Garda Síochána, local authorities or the HSE, who are the primary response agencies (PRAs), are routed to us through Executive Branch, Department of Defence.

“Once the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre (NECC) is stood up, we deploy a liaison officer from Plans and Capabilities Section, J3/5, to collaborate with our colleagues from DoD to represent the defence organisation’s support capabilities. Additionally, local MEM regional teams are stood up by the PRAs with local DF liaison officers in attendance to manage DF support to the PRAs at a local level.

“During Storm Emma the HSE experienced significant difficulties with their comms infrastructure, and as an interim measure, while the HSE’s comms infrastructure was being re-established, the DF agreed to take direct HSE emergency support requests through the tactical operations centres (TOCs) in 1 Bde, 2 Bde and the DFTC. This proved very successful in managing a myriad of HSE emergency callouts such as dialysis patient transfers, critical care staff movements and emergency patient transfers.”

The minister for defence chairs a government task force in the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP), which comprises those ministers and/or senior officials of government departments and public authorities that make a key contribution to the emergency planning process.

The NECC, which was established in 2007, is where ministers and/or senior civil servants can convene to co-ordinate national responses to a major emergency, and is equipped with the latest robust communications systems and support facilities. DF Operations Branch staff officers attend all NECC meetings, where they advise on DF capabilities and resources.

According to a report in the Sunday Independent, Minister with Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe TD paid tribute to the members of the Defence Forces and the Civil Defence who contributed to the relief efforts, saying: “Defence Force personnel responded to every request, which ranged from transferring a significant number of dialysis patients, transporting medication to Crumlin Children’s Hospital, and ensuring a sick child could receive a passport so that they could travel abroad for medical attention…Both the Defence Forces and Civil Defence showed once again that during a time of emergency, the community is put first.”

On the morning of Thursday 1st March 2018 when Met Éireann issued a non-essential travel advisory for after 4pm that day, the DF Press Office announced: ‘Defence Forces personnel will be available for in extremis situations of life and death after 4pm today. We will be asking the regional emergency co-ordination mangers of the HSE, and others, to prioritise tasks so that we can mitigate the risks to our own personnel.’

A number of years ago the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning launched a ‘Be Winter Ready’ information campaign to give the public advice on how to prepare for severe weather and highlight the ‘whole of government’ approach being taken. The central message of this information campaign is simply to encourage people to be prepared, to stay safe and to know where to find help if they need it. There is a ‘Be Winter Ready’ information booklet available at www.winterready.ie

A View from the Coalface: 3 Inf Bn ATCA operations during Storm Emma

Significant snowfall in 3 Inf Bn’s area of operations (AO), comprising of Kilkenny, Wexford, East Tipperary, Waterford and Carlow, saw 3 Inf Bn personnel deploying across the southeast in various roles, all under the umbrella of aid to the civil authority (ATCA). Due to the large AO, various elements of the transport fleet, ranging from Pajero 4x4s, Scania 6x6s, and a snowplough, were prepositioned to RDF centres in both Wexford and Waterford. This decision was pivotal in providing flexibility to meet the requests that that would soon be arriving.

Personnel were co-located with each county’s crisis management centre and HSE centre. This enabled the forming of a mutually supporting face-to-face relationship with key stakeholders to ensure that DF personnel and assets were deployed in a timely and effective manner throughout the operation.

The ATCA deployment lasted for a full eight days. Most significantly, the battalion’s Scania 6x6s, snowplough, and Pajero 4x4s conducted 40 emergency calls to homes in the greater Wexford area in support of the HSE. Personnel also drove and assisted HSE paramedics in dealing with emergency medical cases.

A number of these tasks took place over a number of hours at night, with DF personnel and their HSE counterparts traversing snow drifts by foot for a number of kilometres to ensure that necessary medical equipment and supplies arrived at their objective.

In addition, Defence Forces’ assets were used to transfer 80 dialysis patients to and from various renal clinics across the South East for their essential daily appointments.

Community health nurses were transported to treat patients; Meals on Wheels deliveries were made to vulnerable, mainly elderly, people; and staff transfers from all of the principal hospitals in the region took place.

The deployment culminated in mobilising a full company of troops to travel to Wexford to assist in snow clearing at strategic infrastructural locations such as hospitals, public transport hubs, schools, clinics, and pedestrian footpaths. 3 Inf Bn’s assets were supplemented by 1 Bde Tpt Coy, 1 Inf Bn, DFTC Tpt and DFTC Engr Group at various times of the operation. Over eight consecutive days, 3 Inf Bn deployed 408 troops and 30 vehicles to successfully complete over 380 tasks in support of the civil authorities.

Snow Stories

On March troops from 7 Inf Bn dug this lovely lady and her brother out of their snowed-in house in Roundwood and discovered that it was her 100th birthday the next day. Lt Richard O’Hagan said: “It was great to have the opportunity to meet Ms Doyle on the eve of her 100th birthday. As we were working in the same area the following day we decided we would call back with a card and a cake to help her celebrate the big occasion.” Photo: Sgt (AR) Hazel Brennan, 7 Inf Bn

Pictured are Sgt Alan Graham, Sgt Ollie McNamee, Cpl Eddie Donlon and comrades from 2 Bde Arty Regt deliver Meals on Wheels. “The Defence Forces wherever they are needed is where they are.” Photo: Retired RSM Noel O’Callaghan, 2 BAR

“Outstanding work by Capt Sean Gough and Sgt Brian Buckley, Recce Pl, SP Coy, 7 Inf Bn, who conducted an insertion march from Brittas into Kilbride Camp to conduct a relief-in-place with duty personnel and to resupply local residents with much-needed food supplies.” – Coy Sgt Gerry Duff, 7 Inf Bn

“Thank you to the Irish Defence Forces, ESB, local farmers and great communities throughout Ireland, for helping to clear roads, and reconnect power and water in areas isolated by snow. This is a photo taken in Carrigaline, Co Cork, on Saturday 3 March, of a Defence Forces 6×6 leading an ESB truck out to Minane Bridge, Novohol and Roberts’ Cove area.” – Grainne Lynch PMP CMILT, Pharma Supply Chain Logistics, VP Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT). Photo: Caroline James

Pictured are Cpl Steve Holloway, Logan Shepard (7), and Advanced Paramedic Declan Cunningham of the National Ambulance Service, based out of Wexford General Hospital. Logan needs medical machinery 24/7 and when Storm Emma cut the electricity near his home in Cleariestown, Co Wexford, he had to be dashed to hospital.

In the middle of one the worst snowfalls in living memory in Wexford, Steve and Declan were tasked with attending to this extremely sick child whose home was inaccessible by road. They trekked almost 3km through snowdrifts to tend to Logan and then brought him back on foot to the waiting military ambulance.

Pte Anthony Armstrong from 1 Bde Tpt Coy and Gnr Ger Twomey from 1 BAR pictured with Tracy Quirke and her baby Ella, born at 10.30am on 2nd March 2018, in the middle of the weather crisis. “They are angels living on Earth, as far as I’m concerned,” Tracy’s mother, Jacky Quirke, told the Irish Examiner. Tracy went into labour a week early at 2.30am at the home she shares with partner Darren Galvin on the Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork. Although the peninsula was cut off by snowdrifts up to 6ft deep, Pte Armstrong and Gnr Twomey managed to collect Tracy in their 6×6 truck and transport her to Cork University Maternity Hospital. Earlier family and neighbours had spent 3hrs clearing a 4km path from the house to Barrell’s Cross. Photo: Irish Examiner

Sgt Joanne Doyle Rooney, CMU DFTC, pictured with HSE members deploying to rescue a patient stuck in a remote area of Co Kildare. Troops from the DFTC also transported essential nursing staff to a local nursing home in 4×4 vehicles and provided a snowplough to Kildare County Council for use in Newbridge, Athgarvan, Kilcullen and the Curragh. Photo: Cpl Paul Burke, CMU 2 Bde

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

Technician to Poet – Armn Michael Whelan

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As published in An Cosantóir in November 2011.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Airman Michael Whelan MA, winner of the Paul Tissandier Diploma 2010 awarded by Federation Aeronautical Internationale and if that wasn’t enough he came joint second in the Patrick Kavanagh International Poetry Award 2011 for a collection of unpublished work titled ‘Against the Black Sky, We Listen: An Irish Peacekeepers Poems’.

Armn Whelan 2Michael joined the Defence Forces in Feb 1990 with the 36th Recruit Platoon, CTD E. He was then posted to the Admin Wing of the Air Corps in Baldonnel from 1990-94. In 1994 he was posted to Air Spt Signals and served as a Radio Operator in South Lebanon with the 75th Inf Bn, he stayed in Signals until 1997. He was successful in gaining an apprenticeship as an Air Craft Technician in Spray Painting/Panel Beating with the Air Corps College and Bolton Street from 1997-02. When he finished his trade he was posted to Engr Wing (now No 4 Spt Wing). In 2000/01 Michael served with the 3rd Tpt Coy KFOR as a Radio Operator, which was a busy time during the first free elections in Kosovo.

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Armn Whelan

It was in 2001 that he indulged his interest in History and commenced a degree course in Local and Community Studies with NUI Maynooth. During his studies he asked the then CAS OPS – Col Paul Fry (now GOC AC) if he could start collecting pieces of Air Corps History. He began with a small pile of interesting artefacts in the corner of No 4 hanger and again Col Fry gave him permission to display the collection and it has grown to a now well respected and much visited collection of Air Corps aviation history.

In 2002 Michael received his Certificate in Local History, in 2003 he was awarded a Diploma in Local/Community Studies and in 2005 his BA in Local History.

The Battle of Jadotville2006 saw him awarded an MA in Modern History and in the same year he wrote his first book ‘The Battle of Jadotville: Irish Soldiers in Combat in the Congo 1961’ published by South Dublin Libraries (SDL) and is a well sought after publication. During 2009 he self printed ‘On Hurting Ground: Poetic Silhouettes on Soldiers, History, Love and Tragedy,’ which is a collection of poems with all the proceeds split 50/50 between The Marie Keating Foundation and The Irish Heart Foundation. His latest offering titled ‘Allegiances Compromised: Faith, Honour and Allegiance – Ex British Soldiers in the Irish Army 1913-1924’ (2011) was also published by SDL.

will-you-answer-the-call-for-webMichael has had his work published in too many literary magazines to mention and is a constant contributor to An Cosantóir. He is a member of the Military History Society of Ireland and the Military Heritage of Ireland Trust. He was involved in the South Dublin Heritage Plan (June 2011). He was appointed by the Defence Forces Chief of Staff to the Editorial Committee for the 1916 Anniversary Commemorations in 2006. United Nations 50th Anniversary of Peacekeeping publications June 2008, he also edited the 32 and 33 Irish Battalion Congo Histories (unpublished).

 

IRISH WINNER OF THE PAUL TISSANDIER DIPLOMA 2010:
Airman Michael Whelan, nominated by the National Aero Club of Ireland (NACI) and Brig Gen Paul Fry, General Officer Commanding the Air Corps (GOC AC) was awarded the Paul Tissandier Diploma 2010 by Federation Aeronautic Internationale.

The Citation reads:

“Airman Michael Whelan, No 4 Spt Wing, Irish Air Corps through his curatorship of the Air Corps Military Aviation Museum, his contribution to the collation of Irish military history and his literary publications, has enhanced the standing of the Air Corps and the Defence Forces nationwide. The importance of his contribution to the preservation of aeronautical artefacts is deserving of great praise.”

Visit Michael’s personal blog for many of his stories and poetry: https://michaeljwhelan.wordpress.com/

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.








NATO Commander visits the Irish Defence Forces

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As published in An Cosantóir in April 2014.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos by Cpl Neville Coughlan

Recently An Cosantóir had the pleasure of talking to Lt Gen Frederick Hodges (US Army) Commander of Allied Land Command (COM LANCOM) NATO on a visit to Ireland. On his brief but busy visit he was shown demonstrations of our equipment and capabilities.

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Lt Gen Hodges, a native of Quincy, Florida, he graduated from the US Military Academy in May 1980 and his first assignment after commissioning was as an Infantry Lieutenant in Germany. Since then he has commanded Inf units at Coy, Bn and Bde levels of the 101st Airborne Division and in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. His most recent operational assignment was as Director of Operations, Regional Command South, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He has also served in a variety of other positions to include: Inf Sch Tactics Instructor; Chief of Plans, 2nd Inf Div, Korea; ADC to SACEUR; Task Force Senior Observer-Controller, JRTC, Fort Polk; CJ3 of MNC-I in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM; COS, XVIII Abn Corps, Fort Bragg; and Dir of the Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell on the Joint Staff. His previous assignment was as Chief of Legislative Liaison for the US Army (July 2012).

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Can you briefly explain what forces you command and where are they stationed?

Well first of all Allied Land Command was created by the Agreement of the Alliance of the 28 Nations [NATO] to be responsible for the effectiveness and inter-operability of all NATO Land Forces and our partners, the nations with whom we most commonly train and operate; obviously Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Austria and others. We are a stand-alone Headquarters, part of the NATO command structure, we report directly to SACEUR [Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Philip M. Breedlove USAF], we are the only Land Command for NATO.

We have no direct command over any forces or any other units, our headquarters sits in Izmir, Turkey. We are responsible for going out to other nation’s exercises; we do certifications for the NATO Response Force and are an advocate for land forces across the Alliance and the Partners and making sure that counter-IED proficiency, medevac, HUMINT, maintenance, logistics, fire-support, engineering and all aspects of land operations. We represent that to the NATO command structure and advocate for it and advocate for improved inter-operability between the nations in those capabilities especially in terms of communications and information systems (CIS).

The instance where we would have command responsibility over somebody would be if what’s called a Major Joint Operation (MJO+) which would require multiple corps to be involved. We would become the Land Component Command (LCC), under JFC Naples, or JFC Brunssum, the Joint Force Commands, and then we would have those two, three or four corps under us for the operations.

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How important is Ireland’s engagement to Partnership for Peace (PfP) and Peacekeeping?

The Irish Defence Forces has such a great reputation for excellence and skill in conducting peacekeeping operations. The Irish show up everywhere, everywhere there is a difficult challenging peacekeeping operation – Ireland shows up. There is obviously a demand and a need for what the Irish bring to peacekeeping.

When you look at what the potential future is for the Alliance and the years after the ISAF mission [Afghanistan], after 2014 when ISAF is concluded and resolute support mission which is what’s happening in Afghanistan. I think the members of the Alliance are going to be looking to help prevent or shape future conflict so PfP countries like Ireland tend to be very reliable and effective at doing that sort of engagement much like you’ve done in Chad, Liberia, Mali and Mogadishu in Somalia.

Ireland is a country and the Irish Defence Force is a force that shows up and is prepared to do that and that makes you extremely effective and important and its part of the reason Allied Land Command wants to reach out to the Irish Defence Forces because we don’t really have that type of expertise. Everybody has been focusing on ISAF or to a small extent KFOR and Iraq prior – the current relevant skills that the Irish Defence Forces have we would welcome that expertise in Land Command.

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Where do you see Partnership for Peace (PfP)/Peacekeeping in 20 years from now?

I think that is going to be an extremely important and very visible part of the role of land power for the Alliance, partner nations and the EU. Every country including the United States is getting smaller, there is downward pressure on budgets and most administrations would like to be able to prevent conflict instead of having to respond to a conflict. If that is the case, and you can have peacekeeping forces that are skilled, disciplined and ready to go somewhere that is a much better situation than having to send thousands of troops into to respond to a situation that is gone bad.

I think over the next 20 years you’re going to see a lot of interest by the members of NATO and PfP nations looking over the horizon into Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and other places where you would like to be able to prevent conflict.

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What is your impression of the Irish Defence Forces on your brief visit?

It’s my first visit here and I have been extremely impressed with the overall professionalism, competence, discipline, confidence in just how people do things even though the size of the force is relatively small compared to many of the nations in NATO.

The professionalism of the force the skill level and the quality of the people I’ve met is exceptional, the quality of the equipment and the capabilities that have procured and developed. All the equipment that I saw today for counter-IED, ISTAR, Special Forces and your CIS, I was very impressed by the quality and that tells me that the Irish Defence Forces has been smart in recognising that you are going to be small in numbers but will have to deliver an effective capability in many places around the world typically in Spartan locations. You have made some smart decisions about procurement.

And finally I found a real willingness to continue to participate and to be a part of the international community in terms of security and stability and the desire to cooperate with NATO as a member of the EU you are part of the Partnership for Peace, it’s very clear every soldier, officer and non-commissioned-officer I have spoken to has demonstrated a willingness and desire to continue to be an effective and respective part of that – it’s been a very uplifting experience for me to come here to get to understand your capabilities and to understand some of the nature of who and what you are.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.








Uachtarán na hÉireann – President Mary McAleese

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As published in An Cosantóir in November 2011.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photographs by Corporal Greg Dorney & 105 Sqn

PresidentAfter her recent visit to Lebanon and coming in to her last few weeks in office after her great tenure of service to our nation, the president spoke briefly to An Cosantóir about her memories of the Defence Forces.

Under the constitution, Supreme Command of the Defence Forces is vested in the President. What does this role entail, and how has it manifested itself during your 14 years in office?

President departs bal 03Operational command of the Defence Forces is vested in the Minister and the Government but the Supreme Command of the Defence Forces is vested in the President – a role often referred to as Commander in Chief and one that I was anxious to signify by developing an active relationship with the Defence Forces both at home and abroad. The staff in the Aras ADC’s office have become my friends and colleagues these past fourteen years and of course members of the Defence Forces have played a central role in all the ceremonial duties of the Presidency. I had regular meetings and briefings with various Chief’s of Staff, visited many barracks, accompanied the troops twice on their Military Pilgrimages to Lourdes, invited retired members of the Defence Forces and families of serving soldiers to the Aras, took part in commemoration ceremonies, was transported safely to various destinations by the Air Corps and was particularly proud to be the first President to visit our troops serving overseas with the United Nations, of Ireland’s most important national engagements with the wider world is our peacekeeping work with the United Nations. Ireland’s Defence Forces have served for over fifty years with outstanding distinction and considerable sacrifice. I wanted to honour and draw attention to that work and so my first and last foreign visits as President were to Irish troops serving in Lebanon, where forty seven of our troops died in the service of peace, more than any of the other foreign armies serving there. It has been an abiding theme of my Presidency to acknowledge the immense contribution of our Defence Forces since the foundation of the State.

You have visited many overseas missions during your time, is there any one that stands out the most?

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President McAleese meets her security element while visiting Irish troops in Lebanon, October 14, 2011.

Each visit abroad stands out in terms of the sheer professionalism of our soldiers and each carries very special images but there was something dreadfully poignant about Liberia, which I visited in late 2004. The place was a mess with virtually no infrastructure, a wickedly hot climate, with troops patrolling in temperatures that could soar to 50 degrees centigrade. They didn’t complain, just got on with their work and in their spare time helped out at a hospice for people dying of Aids. In a country mired in chaos their positivity and simple decency were so needed and appreciated.

Both Ireland and the Defence Forces have changed substantially over the past 14 years. How important a contribution do you think the three services of the Defence Forces make to the State today?

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President McAleese meets her troops from the 102 Battalion before they deploy to Chad, December 16, 2009.

The Defence Forces have been a rock solid centre of gravity since the foundation of the State, an essential element in Ireland’s early pathway to stability and democracy and today they are part of the warp and weft of our civic life at home while abroad they are the outward expression of Ireland’s commitment to global peace. The loyalty of our Army, Air Corps and Naval Service to Ireland and her values has been exemplary. They showcase to the highest level of professionalism and integrity what big things a small, militarily neutral country has to contribute to global peace. It was a proud moment for me, though no surprise, to hear General Asarta who is the current Commander of UNIFIL say that the people of South Lebanon begged him to bring the Irish troops back to Lebanon because their experience of them had been so good.

What memories will you bring with you of the Defence Forces?

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President McAleese presents the troops with their UNIFIL Service medals, October 14, 2011.

I have many great memories of our Defence Forces, some relating to events at home others to visits overseas. The enormous contribution of our Defence Forces during the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was particularly memorable and evoked pride across the entire land. I have loved the Guards of Honour, the Bands with their wonderful marching tunes, the Cadets at Garden of Remembrance, the Buglers, the Artillery, the Air Corps with the fly past, the care for one another when serving abroad, the shocking all consuming sadness when a member of the Defence Forces died and the camaraderie that was so evident at funerals and commemorations. I remember the combined Irish army and civilian medical relief teams that went to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch and that my husband Martin was so honoured to serve two rotations with. The stories of those days are regularly told and retold and always the core story is of Irish soldiers who can through sheer can-do determination and skill, work miracles in the most difficult of conditions.

“I take this opportunity to thank the Defence Forces and their families for their truly wonderful support and friendship during my time in office. I could never hope to repay them but hope they know the pride and respect they evoke in me, in every Irish person and in all whose paths they cross. Those who serve today are building on a very proud tradition and I know from direct experience that they will honour that tradition brilliantly.”

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie








Queen Elizabeth II state visit to Ireland

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As published in An Cosantóir on June 1, 2011
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photographs by Armn Greg Dorney & by members of 105 Sqn

Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh undertook a historic four-day state visit to Ireland in May 2011. As part of our country’s protocol in marking the visit, the Defence Forces had over 500 military personnel participating in a variety of ceremonial parades. It has taken months of planning and weeks of rehearsals for all concerned and the following photographs capture the colour, pomp, music and fanfare of the first visit by a  to Ireland for over one hundred years.

1 QueenCapt Laura Keane (OiC Motorcycle Escort, 2 Cav Sqn) salutes Queen Elizabeth on her arrival at Casement Aerodrome. Also pictured are An Tánaiste, Mr Eamon Glimore TD, Maj Gen Dave Ashe (D COS Sp), Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh and Brig Gen Paul Fry (GOC Air Corps). The Air Corps provided a Courtesy Guard of Honour.

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The Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Sean McCann and Queen Elizabeth in Áras an Uachtaráin are greeted by Capt Thomas Holmes (5 Inf Bn), who escorts Queen Elizabeth as she inspects the tri-service (Army, Naval Service and Air Corps) Guard of Honour at Áras an Uachtaráin. Also pictured is Major Dan Rex (Equerry in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth).

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Queen Elizabeth and President McAleese, accompanied by Minister for Defence Mr Alan Shatter TD and Lt Gen Sean McCann attend a wreath laying ceremony in the Gardens of Remembrance, Parnell Sq, Dublin.

6 QueenCpl Derek Brunt (2 E Bde MP Coy) hands Queen Elizabeth a poppy wreath during a ceremony at the War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, to mark the 49,400 Irishmen who died while serving in the British Army during World War One.

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The Queen and the President lay wreaths in honour of the Irishmen and women who died in the struggle for Irish freedom at the Garden of Remembrance.

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The Queen and the President meet members of the Defence Forces who attended the commemorative service at the War Memorial Gardens. They are from (l-r): Col Brian Dowling, Capt Ed Hollingsworth, Rec Katie Berry, A/S Ben Murphy and Sgwmn Emma Kells.

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Lt Col Mark Armstrong (Dir DFSM) leads the Defence Forces Band and the tri-service guard of honour into Áras an Uachtaráin. Throughout the visit, the band, including pipers who were instrumental in providing a military musical tribute during all the official ceremonies.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie








UNIFIL An Irish/Lebanese Experience

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Published in An Cosantóir on July 1, 2011.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos DF Photographers & Courtesy www.unmultimedia.org

2 LEBANON1On the eve of the return of an Irish battalion to serve with The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald met with Mr Guy Jonas of the Irish-Lebanese Cultural Foundation to find out about his organisation and his views on the return of Irish troops to South Lebanon.

 

Can you tell us something about yourself?
GuyJones 2I am from an emigrant family; my grandfather was born in Buenos Aires, and I was born and raised in Lebanon. My mother still lives in Jounieh, just outside Beirut. I left Lebanon in 1976. I am an engineer by profession and I met my wife, who is from Thurles, while working in Abu Dabi in the UAE. We married and lived for several years in Abu Dabi but when we decided to start a family we felt we wanted to raise our children in Ireland so we moved over here 12 years ago. I had always enjoyed my trips to Ireland.

How did the idea for the Irish-Lebanese Cultural Foundation come about?
It’s funny really. I saw the parade through O’Connell Street of the last Irish battalion to serve in Lebanon in 2001 and that was the first time I knew that Irish troops had been serving in my country. I was amazed then when I found out that they had been there since 1978! I became very interested in the Defence Forces’ time in Lebanon and the more I found out about it the more I felt that there was a lack of a concrete link between our two countries to continue and develop the ties that had grown over all those years. That was when I decided to establish a cultural foundation. Since then it has grown all the time and we are strongly involved with Irish UNIFIL veterans. I have been organising and accompanying groups of veterans to Lebanon for several years now.

How much contact do you have with your homeland?
A lot. I go to Lebanon at least four times a year and leb flagkeep in touch with family by phone. I also read the Lebanese papers on-line every day and listen to the Lebanese news. Although I left Lebanon in 1976 I returned for a few years from 1984 to 1988, during which time I worked very closely with the Lebanese Armed Forces. The guys I knew at that time who were all captains and majors are now generals, so I still have very good links with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).

What is the Lebanese view of UNIFIL at the current time?
Awareness of UNIFIL has never been as good in the north of Lebanon. When I lived in Lebanon there was strict control of information which meant that we knew almost nothing of what was going on in South Lebanon. A number of years ago President Gemayel had instituted a medal for UN peacekeepers who served in Lebanon but the parliament voted to discontinue it quite soon after and very few were awarded.

First Phase DigitalI was approached about this matter by some Irish veterans and I said I would do what I could. So, when I met the chief of staff of the LAF I brought this subject up with him and told him that I felt Irish UNIFIL veterans would be delighted with a special Lebanon service medal. He was very much in favour and although he said it would be very difficult to reinstitute the same medal he would have no problem instituting a new medal of appreciation and asked me how many I wanted!

Subsequently we received 500 medals, which were distributed to veterans. They are in huge demand and I could do with many more.

What do people think about the impending return of the Irish to South Lebanon and how do you think things will work out?
The minute the people of Tibnine heard that the Irish might be coming back to Lebanon, they organised a petition that was signed by many people, including Mr Fawaz, the deputy mayor, requesting that they should be based back in Tibnine.

This petition was sent to UNIFIL HQ in Naqoura and then forwarded to UN HQ in New York. This shows the extent of the goodwill that is there and the connection that exists between our people.
This view is shared by the Lebanese government. In a letter to the Irish-Lebanese Cultural Foundation in March the Osseiran said,

‘…the Irish battalion is preparing to be redeployed in South Lebanon in the next couple of months and I can assure you that the government and people of Lebanon are looking forward to receiving those Irish men and women with open arms.’

SG Field CoverageAfter 2000, when the south was liberated, it was natural for Ireland to pull its troops out as there was nothing really for them to do. Since then we had the war of 2006 followed by UN Security Resolution 1701 which gave UNIFIL a renewed, stronger, more efficient mandate to create a buffer zone and to protect the border. This has brought new rules of engagement that are very different to those that were in place previously. The rise of planned protest along the border by people demanding the right to return to their homes, a legitimate demand in my opinion, but one that is not being carried out in a proper fashion, is leading to a very different situation. Your presence is needed and will be welcomed by a lot of people but it won’t be the same as it used to be. You won’t be mingling with the public to the same extent. Lots of things have changed.

Another big change is in relation to the LAF. In the past the Irish only had people like the local mukhtar to turn to for information and support whereas now the Lebanese army is deployed all the way to the border and is working hand-in-hand with UNIFIL. Also, several LAF officers have attended courses in the UN school in the Curragh and have established very good relations with their Irish counterparts.

Finally, what are your hopes for the future of your country?
We have a wonderful opportunity in Lebanon at this time. We have a president in Michel Sleiman, a former commander-in-chief of the LAF, who is extremely scrupulous in the application of the law and who is intent on helping Lebanon to become a better place. Also the events that are taking place all around the Middle East and North Africa are taking the spotlight off Lebanon for once. For too long we were seen as the ‘black sheep’ of the region, even though we generally enjoyed more freedoms and human rights protection than most other countries in the region.

leb shotOf course, we are also facing a lot of serious challenges, like emigration, but the country had been doing very well economically. At a time when most of the world’s economies almost collapsed, Lebanon was still achieving growth rates of 6% or 7% a year. Indeed, Irish troops returning to Lebanon who may have served there in the past will be amazed by the development that has take place in South Lebanon, as seen in the new roads and fine villas that have grown up all around places like Haris. Given the chance that a permanent peace would provide, I believe Lebanon has much to give to the world. We are a talented, resourceful, multi-lingual people and with the help and goodwill of the international community I truly believe that we are going to pick up from here and do very well.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie








Former President Receives Peace Award

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As published in the December 2019 /January 2020 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine

By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos by Armn Sam Gibney

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland  (1990-1997), was presented with the Tipperary International Peace Award for 2018, at the Tipperary Peace Convention 2019, at a ceremony held in the Excel Centre, Tipperary Town, on 7 November 2019.

Seán Cosgrave, IUNVA Post 24 salutes former president Mary Robinson as honorary secretary of the Tipperary Peace Convention Martin Quinn accompanies her.

As Irish president she was also supreme commander of the Defence Forces, and as such would have inspected many Irish soldiers serving around the world and at home. An honour guard from Post 24 (Clonmel) and Post 4 (Tipperary) of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) greeted Mrs Robinson. The honour guard was handed over by Seán Cosgrave (Post 24), who served 11 times in Lebanon during his lengthy service.

Mrs Robinson has held the positions of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), UN Special Envoy on the Great Lakes in Africa & Democratic Republic of the Congo (2013-2014), and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change (2014-2015), and is the current chair of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders, established by Nelson Mandela in 2007, who work together for peace, justice and human rights.

Guests at the convention included members of the Dáil and Seanad, EU and international diplomats, local county councillors, senior members of An Garda Síochána, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM and Captain (NS) Brian Fitzgerald.

On entering the theatre Mrs Robinson, who was accompanied by her husband, Nicholas, was greeted with a standing ovation.

MC for the occasion, Martin Quinn, honorary secretary of the Tipperary Peace Convention, regaled the audience with stories Mrs Robinson’s previous visits to Tipperary during her presidency.

In introducing this year’s award recipient, Martin said that Mary Robinson had “rocked the system around the world over the last number of decades”. He referred to her work as a politician, becoming the first female president of Ireland, her many roles with the UN, her great charitable work, and her continuous efforts to highlight climate change around the globe.

On receiving her award, Mary Robinson said she was “very honoured and very humbled” to accept the award. She went on to name some of the previous recipients before adding: “There is something special about this award.”

The former president also invited the members of the IUNVA honour guard to receive a round of applause from the packed auditorium, saying: “I inspected many a guard of honour as president – but this one was special as it was made up of Irish peacekeepers, of whom I am very proud.”

For more information on the Tipperary International Peace Award and Peace Convention visit: www.tipperarypeace.ie

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

59th Annual Niemba Ceremonies 2019

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As published in the December 2019 /January 2020 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine

Report & Photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Cuimhnímis ‘Let Us Remember’

On Saturday 9 November 2019, the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel (ONE) held their 59th Annual Niemba Ceremony in Cathal Brugha Barracks to honour our comrades who lost their lives in the service of peace at Niemba, Congo on the 8th November 1960. Following on from last year’s ceremony, it was held indoor, starting with 12 noon mass in the Garrison Church. This was followed by a well thought out wreath laying ceremony. VIPs included the Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin, military attachés, Defence Forces Assistant Chief of Staff Brig Gen Peter O’Halloran, Lt Col Seán Ó Fátharta, OC 7 Inf Bn and Cathal Brugha Bks, along with representatives from RACO, PDFORRA, RDFRA, ONE, IUNVA, ARCO, with other veterans’ associations, Congo veterans and the family members of deceased Congo veterans.

‘A’ Coy, 33rd Inf Bn. Photo: South Dublin County Libraries / WM_4713

On 8 November 1960, an 11-man Irish UN Peacekeeping patrol from 33 Inf Bn who were serving with the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) were ambushed by over 100 Baluba tribesmen at Niemba. This was the first-time members of Óglaigh na hÉireann were involved in a battle since the founding of the state in 1922.

Assistant Chief of Staff, Brig Gen Peter O’Halloran lays a wreath in memory of our fallen comrades.

The patrol was under the command of Lt Kevin Gleeson (Carlow), accompanied by his NCOs of Sgt Hugh Gaynor (Dublin), Cpl Peter Kelly (Dublin), and Cpl Liam Dougan (Dublin), the rest of the patrol was made up of Pte Matthew Farrell (Dublin), Tpr Thomas Fennell (Dublin), Tpr Anthony Browne (Dublin), Pte Michael McGuinn (Carlow), Pte Gerard Killeen (Dublin), Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick (Dublin) and Pte Tom Kenny (Dublin).

It is believed that the Baluba tribesmen thought they were attacking European mercenaries who were hired by the breakaway Katanga province. The Balbua tribe had not supported the secession as several villages had been burned by the mercenaries. It is said that the small Irish patrol who were trying to keep the bridge over River Luweyeye open killed around 25 Baluba tribesmen, but it was destroyed. Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick and Pte Tom Kenny were the only two peacekeepers to survive the massacre, while Tpr Anthony Browne being posthumously awarded An Bonn Seirbhíse Dearscna (The Distinguished Service Medal – with Honour) for the heroic action he showed during battle.

In 2006, The Irish Times quoted the then Minister for Defence Mr Willie O’Dea said he wholeheartedly recognised and acknowledged that, “both Pte Kenny, particularly in view of the serious wounds and injuries he sustained, and Pte Fitzpatrick survived a horrific encounter with hostile forces, displaying courage, fortitude and tenacity in order to survive until finally rescued.” He commended them both, “for the selfless service they have given their country.”

Cuimhnímis ‘Let Us Remember’

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

Aiding the Civil Power

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As published in the December 2019 /January 2020 issue of An Cosantóir Magazine
By Sgt Wayne FitzgeraldPhotos by CQMS Michael Barrett (AR) & Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Members of AGS cordon off an area around Christ Church while awaiting the DF EOD team.

On Monday 21 October 2019, An Garda Síochána (AGS) requested the support of the Defence Forces in dealing with an incident involving a suspected improvised explosive device (IED) in the Christchurch area of Dublin. A DF explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team was immediately deployed to the scene.

EOD teams, comprised of highly trained Ordnance Corps technicians, are on call 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year, around the country. When called on by AGS in aid to the civil power (ATCP) they are provided with an armed security detail from the relevant brigade’s stand-to guard.

Members of 2 Bde’s stand-to duty secure the area for their EOD colleagues to deploy their robot for bomb disposal.

The stand-to is also a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year duty, on call for operational and aid to the civil power tasking, which could include high-security prisoner escorts, explosives escorts for quarries or demolitions, ammunition escorts, among others.

The three-star course qualifies soldiers as fully trained private soldiers, ready for both conventional military operations and ATCP operations. An important part of this training, taught in conjunction with weapons handling, are the guidelines governing the use of force. These range from employing non-lethal force, to issuing a verbal warning of the intent to fire, right up to the firing of live ammunition, initially as warning or containing shots, before firing for effect if the legal criteria covering this are met. (See the interview with Col Jerry Lane, Director of the Defence Forces Legal Service Branch, on this subject in this issue.)

Every time a soldier is issued with live ammunition, they must be aware of their obligation to comply with these use-of-force guidelines, particularly on ATCP operations where they may be interacting with civilians.

Another high profile ATCP tasking for DF personnel over the years would be in helping to secure Portlaoise Prison, Ireland’s high-security prison, which caters for most people convicted at the Special Criminal Court and includes those linked with subversive activity. The Irish Prison Service runs the prison, with members of AGS and armed DF personnel securing the perimeter wall. The use of force is part of the daily briefing for these soldiers; sometimes twice daily, depending on shift rotations.

Recently we met with personnel on duty with 2 Brigade’s stand-to, to get an idea of the kind of soldier that would be available to respond to a potential ATCP emergency.

Cpl Wayne Casey, 7 Inf Bn with the Ordnance Corps EOD truck in the background.

Cpl Wayne Casey joined the Defence Forces in 2003, undergoing recruit training in Gormanston before being posted to 5 Inf Bn in McKee Bks, Dublin. He completed courses on the GPMG SF (sustained fire); .5” HMG; 60mm mortar; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) operations; fighting in built-up areas (FIBUA); and computer appreciation (CAPs and ECDL). He also completed driving courses for military cars, Transits, trucks, and the Mowag Piranha Mk III APC.

In 2009 Wayne completed a Potential NCOs course in 2 BTC. Promoted to corporal, he underwent a Crowd and Riot Control Instructors course and trained new recruits.

Wayne also completed a FIBUA Instructors course and 81mm mortar YE and Instructors courses, and the Techfire Instructors course.

Cpl Wayne Casey, 7 Inf Bn on duty in Cathal Brugha Bks.

With the amalgamation of 5 Inf Bn and 2 Inf Bn to form 7 Inf Bn in 2013, Wayne served with B Coy, training recruits, before moving to Support Coy as an 81mm mortar corporal.

Wayne is currently Signals Cpl where he’s part of a team looking after the unit’s radio equipment.

Wayne has served overseas on a number of occasions: as a rifleman in Kosovo in 2005, a stores corporal in Chad in 2010, and as a Mowag APC driver with the UNDOF QRF on the Golan Heights in 2014 and 2018.

During his service Wayne has been involved in numerous security duties at vital government installations and barracks around the country.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

ATHY’S HEROES & VETERANS

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As published in the February 2019 issue of An Cosantóir  
Report & Photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

Athy, Co Kildare, is a thriving market town located approximately 65km from the Red Cow/M50 junction and 22km from the Curragh Camp and is the place where the River Barrow and the Grand Canal meet. Athy became one the initial Anglo-Norman settlements after Richard de Clare (Strongbow) granted the area of Le Norrath to Robert FitzRichard in 1175, and other Anglo-Norman lords, including Robert St Michel, settled on the surrounding lands. At the beginning of the 13th century, the St Michel family built Woodstock Castle, and it was outside this castle that the first Anglo-Norman settlement developed. Subsequently burned and sacked a number of times, it is believed the town was walled as early as 1297; walls that were maintained until well into the 15th century.

In the Shackleton museum.

One famous local resident was renowned Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who was born in nearby Kilkea. The intrepid explorer is honoured and remembered with a whole floor dedicated to him in Athy’s Heritage Centre, which is based in the old Town Hall on Emily Square. (Visit www.shackletonmuseum.com)

Athy Heritage Centre’s military history section.

When I visited the Heritage Centre I met with local historian Clem Roche, who took me through the town’s military history, which predates the establishment of the Curragh. Clem has researched the exploits of Athy men through many wars and told me that they have been serving in the military since the 1730s.

Local historian, Clem Roche, beside the John Vincent Holland VC display.

The story that caught my attention was that of John Vincent Holland, born in Athy in 1889, who won a Victoria Cross (VC) in World War I. Holland attended Clongowes Wood College near Clane, Co Kildare, studying veterinary medicine for three years before leaving in 1909 for a more adventurous life in South America, where he tried his hand at ranching, railway engineering and hunting. On the outbreak of the Great War, he returned to Ireland and was commissioned as a lieutenant into the Leinster Regiment. He was wounded at the second battle of Ypres in 1915 but recovered to take part in the Somme campaign of 1916, serving as a bombing officer with the 7th Battalion of the Leinsters.

Lt John Vincent Holland VC

On 3rd September 1916 he played a crucial role in the capture of Guillemont, which was rated as one of the great achievements of the 16th (Irish) Division, and was subsequently awarded a VC for:

“most conspicuous bravery during a heavy engagement, when, not content with bombing hostile dug-outs within the objective, he fearlessly led his bombers through our own artillery barrage and cleared a great part of the village in front. He started out with twenty-six bombers and finished up with only five, after capturing some fifty prisoners. By this very gallant action he undoubtedly broke the spirit of the enemy, and thus saved us many casualties when the battalion made a further advance. He was far from well at the time, and later had to go to hospital”.

Drawing of the attack led by Lt Holland VC

Holland, clearly a modest man, attributed his award to “the fidelity and extraordinary gallantry” of the men he commanded. On his return home, he received a civic reception but did not remain in Ireland. He served for a time in the Indian Army, returning as a major during World War II. He finally settled in Australia, where he received a state funeral after he died in Hobart, Tasmania, on 27th February 1975.

It was my interest in this VC winner that initially brought me to Athy to find out more about its military past. This led to my meeting with some of the veterans who had started St Michael’s ONE branch in the town, one of the newest branches in the veterans’ organisation. The branch, which was established nearly five years ago and has 12 full-time members and seven associates, takes its name from the parish of St Michael’s, which in turn takes its name from the St Michel family mentioned earlier.

For the first four years, St Michael’s Branch held their monthly meetings in Dominican Hall and Methodist Hall on the Carlow Road before moving to Athy Community College (with many thanks to Principle Richard Daly) for the last year.

I met with several members of the branch to get some background. Branch Chairman Kevin Carton, originally from Wicklow, spent his career with the Transport Corps in the Curragh. Branch Secretary John Roche, an Athy native who comes from a large military family, served with the Ordnance Corps, also in the Curragh. Other branch members at the meeting were Anthony Davis, formerly Medical Corps; Pat Roche (John’s brother and the father of Clem, the local historian who had been my guide in Heritage Centre) formerly Artillery Corps; John Lawlor, from Athy, formerly of the Engineer Corps; William Lawlor, who served in the Curragh and Dublin; Liam Foley, from Athy, who served in the Military College; and John Roche’s wife Kathleen and his other brother, Michael, who are associate members.

St Michael’s Branch members

At the start of our meeting, the branch members paid tribute to Raymond Clarke, one of their founding members, who sadly passed away three years ago. Raymond had served with An Slua Muir and Civil Defence.

John recalls the meeting held in 2013 in Fingleton Auctioneers in the town to see if there was sufficient interest and ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor came along and spoke to those present. There was great interest and Kevin says: “Starting off it looked good with numbers.” Of course, though, starting off any venture like this provides many challenges and obstacles to overcome so it was by no means easy but all agree it was worth the effort.

The branch has an excellent Facebook page that lets people know what they are about and to share photos of events/projects they are involved in. One of those projects, cleaning and renovating the grotto on the Monasterevin Road, has earned great acknowledgement for the branch. Due to the branch’s efforts the grotto, originally built in 1954 by the Lower St Joseph’s Residents’ Association, now includes a roll of honour for the 87 members of the Defence Forces who died on overseas service, and has won numerous awards, including the Athy Tidy Towns Award in 2016 and again in 2018, jointly with another location.

The grotto in Athy

Among the branch’s many activities last year, they took part in the town’s St Patrick’s Day parade and provided a guard of honour for the visit of the Rose of Tralee. The branch does a fair amount of annual fundraising, including holding a number of raffles, collecting for ONE’s Fuchsia Appeal and lotto draw. Their local charitable work includes donating large, framed pictures to St Michael’s Parish Church, and plaques in the old and new graveyards.

St Michaels Branch accepting their joint Tidy Towns Award for 2018. Photo: St Michael’s
Branch, ONE

As a result of all of the above, this young branch has already made an impact locally. John said the branch receives very positive feedback in the town for their charitable work. In recognition of its community spirit, St Michael’s Branch became the first ONE branch to get a civic reception when they were given one by Kildare County Council in March 2018, at which the branch gave a presentation on the Fuchsia Appeal to the councillors to make them aware of the plight of veterans.

Looking to the future they would like to increase their membership numbers over the coming year and have been in discussions with their local councillors for assistance for a suitable building they could turn into a Veterans Support Centre (VSC), along the lines of those that ONE has opened up around the country. Kevin says: “If we had our own VSC in the town we would have a place to meet veterans that might need help.”

I was very impressed with the comradery within the branch and by the respect in which they are held locally. It was also good to meet the members in person after having come across them at many veterans’ events over the years.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

Helping Hands: Veterans’ Support Centre opens in the Curragh Camp

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As published in the Dec 2018 / Jan 2019 issue of An Cosantóir  
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald, Photos by Armn Sam Gibney

GOC DFTC Brig Gen Joe Mulligan opening the Veterans’ Support Centre with many veterans’ present

On the 19th of November 2018, the Organisation for National Ex-Service Personnel (ONE) in conjunction with the GOC DFTC Brig Gen Joe Mulligan opened a Veterans’ Support Centre (VSC) in the Curragh Camp, Co Kildare. Present for the opening was ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor, ONE National President Tom James, ONE Chairman Brig Gen Colm Campbell Retd and Chairman of the St. Conleth’s Branch John ‘Bosco’ Fogarty. The St. Conleth’s Branch of ONE headed up the project over the last few months.

The ONE is a Veterans charity, which supports the welfare of former members of the Defence Forces by providing accommodation for 44 homeless veterans in their residential homes in Dublin, Letterkenny and Athlone. ONE also provides information, advice and a friendly place to go through their branch network and Veteran Support Centres located around the country. 

GOC DFTC Brig Gen Joe Mulligan opening the Veterans’ Support Centre with Paddy Flavin, Secretary St. Conleths Branch.

General Mulligan officially cut the ribbon on the office in Block 5 Ceannt Barracks while a large number of veterans from the surrounding area watched on, including ONE branches from Athy, Carlow, Tullow, members of IUNVA, the Glengarry Club, the Military Police Association of Ireland, the 3rd Infantry Battalion Association, and Yvonne Harrison of the Irish Branch of Soldiers’, Sailors’, and Airmen’s Families Association (SSAFA).

Brig Gen Joe Mulligan with ONE National President Tom James.

In cutting the ribbon General Mulligan announced the VSC, “Open for business.”  He added that it was a great initiative and he was delighted to support it. “We tend to soldier on, and put up with anything. Now its great to come and get advice and to talk – support is important. I wish you every success… we all wanted to get this positive venture completed, it also makes the organisation [Defence Forces] stronger.” Discussing the location of the VSC, which is based in the middle of the west side of the camp in Ceannt Barracks, the general added, “Serving soldiers can see the VSC working in the middle of the barracks.” He finished by wishing the Veterans’, “The best of luck in the future.”With General Mulligan’s retirement coming up in a number of weeks, ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor took the opportunity to present the general with an ONE application form which received a great cheer.  

ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor presents Brig Gen Joe Mulligan with an ONE application form which received a great cheer.

ONE Chairman retired Brig Gen Colm Campbell thanked all for coming and said, “That the work ONE does can be summed up in a few words: Supporting, Advocating and Remembering. We support veterans with our branch network and residential homes around the country, and 8 of the 13 Veterans’ Support Centres’ are now open.  This Centre is for ‘All Veterans’ and has everything from a handshake to a cup of tea and everything in between,” he added.

ONE Chairman Brig Gen Colm Campbell Retd, explains the aims of the Veterans’ Support Centre.

For advocating he said the ONE was apolitical and advocates on behalf of all veterans to national and to local government departments and officials for their benefit.  Speaking about Remembrance, the retired general said, “Last week we remembered those who died at Niemba, following the ceremony one of our members Gregory Leech (ONE/IUNVA/2 Battalion Association) met a comrade who he hadn’t seen since they served in the Congo in 1961, it was a joy to see how delighted they were for this to happen. So, civilians have friends and soldiers have comrades.”

ONE National President Tom James finished off the official ceremony by thanking all those who helped make the project possible, he thanked the GOC DFTC Brig Gen Joe Mulligan by adding, “I’m glad we kept going and delighted we did it under your tenure.” He also thanked members of his own branch St. Conleths including Shamie Flynn who painted the offices, and chairman John ‘Bosco’ Fogarty and above all others, branch secretary Paddy Flavin who worked day and night to get the place ready and was the main steering force for the opening of the VSC.  ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor just reiterated that the Veterans Support Centres are open to all veterans living in Ireland no matter nationality.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.

ONE Building for the Future

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As published in An Cosantóir in April 2017 
Report & photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

On Saturday 25th February 2017 ONE held an informal meeting in Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave) with a group of individuals and other veterans associations to thank them for their much-needed fundraising efforts in 2016 and to discuss ONE’s plans for the launch of their Fuchsia Appeal 2017.

Derek Ryan, a director of ONE and chairperson of its Marketing and Fundraising Committee, chaired the meeting. Other members of the committee present were Paul Cooley (ONE HQ), Dick Dillon and Sinéad Black (house manager and assistant manager, respectively, of Brú na bhFiann).

ONE Director Derek Ryan and chairperson of the Marketing and Fundraising Committee.

In his opening remarks, Derek said: “On behalf of the board of ONE, its members and our residents, many thanks for your support and invaluable assistance and goodwill throughout 2016 in supporting our less fortunate ex-comrades. Without this support, it would be very difficult for us to maintain the three homes for our former colleagues.”

Unlike the UK, Ireland doesn’t have a specific minister for veterans’ affairs and only got a veterans policy in the last White Paper on Defence.

“Most of us don’t need help,” Derek said, “but there is a percentage that does, and they are reluctant to ask for it. However, having a veterans policy has helped change people’s mindset in the last few years.”

ONE meets with its counterparts in Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA) and Association of Retired Commissioned Officers (ARCO) approximately six times a year to discuss veterans’ issues and look at cost-neutral policies to benefit veterans, like a medical file transfer from the military to a civilian system, pension restoration, and linking up with European veterans associations. The ONE also meets regularly with the Department officials and the Minister to advocate with IUNVA and ARCO on veterans issues.

There are a large number of veterans who are not members of ONE, IUNVA or ARCO: it is estimated that there are over 100,000 veterans who have left the Defence Forces since the early ‘70s. Derek said: “We have to reach out to those veterans and we need to break the mould on what people perceive as who a veteran is.”

ONE wants the veteran’s policy to be for all veterans and Derek suggested that in the future it may be possible that all veterans’ associations should look to affiliate or such like, to enable a united approach on all veterans’ issues.

Derek continued: “We are not trying to split any organisation or association or group; we are trying to bring them all together. United we have an advantage.”

Brú na bhFiann House Manager Dick Dillon and Assistant House Manager Sinéad Black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking about fundraising specifically for their homeless initiatives, like Brú na bhFiann, which houses 40 former Defence Forces members, Asst House Manager Sinéad Black said: “We never ask if people who come to us are members of ONE or any other veterans association; they only have to be a former member of the DF.” She continued, “We are always looking for people who can help us in any capacity.”

Brú na bhFiann, North King Street.

It costs approximately €600,000 annually to run ONE’s homes in Athlone, Donegal and Dublin. House Manager Dick Dillon says the home is partly funded by Dublin County Council with a donation of €180,000 per year – €12/€13 per occupant per day – whereas some other charity-run homeless initiatives in Dublin receive €75 per occupant per night. “Our homes in Athlone and Donegal received as little as 13 cents per occupant from their local county councils, which is nothing compared to what big-branded homeless initiatives receive – homelessness has become a business, however in recent times this meagre support has ceased”

Since 1994 ONE has provided over 700 former Defence Forces personnel with a place to stay and has assisted many others in various ways. The organisation will launch its annual Fuchsia Appeal on 28th June at the Defence Forces memorial in Merrion Square. If every serving and former member of the Defence Forces purchased a €2 fuchsia badge displaying the Cuimhnímís (Let us Remember) message it would greatly support ONE’s much-needed service and secure funding for its homes.

If you are interested in fundraising on behalf of ONE, get in touch with them so they can support your event in their newsletter and on social media.

ONE National HQ & Brú na bhFiann: 01-4850666; info@oneconnect.ie; www.oneconnect.ie. Registered Charity number: 20044268; CHY number: 13868.

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.








“VETERANS ARE MUCH STRONGER TOGETHER” – ONE ADC 2017

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As published in An Cosantóir in November 2017
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

It’s fair to say most serving soldiers don’t know much about veterans affairs or care for them until one day they become a veteran themselves.

On the 23rd September over 100 delegates from around Ireland met to discuss veterans affairs for the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel or ONE in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Limerick. The opening addresses were given by ONE Chairman Paddy Rooney and

ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor

ONE CEO Ollie O’Connor and new to the board was recently retired Brig Gen Colm Campbell, who stated the reason veterans join the ONE, “Comradeship. We have shared experiences and a shared past. That’s why we get on so well. We value the esprit de corps of comradeship!”

Gen Campbell went on to discuss the strategic plan of the ONE: “We have to accept, we won’t always get it right, but we must work at it. We have to be able to change the plan.”

Brig Gen Colm Campbell Retd

“The veterans policy in the government’s latest white paper is positive and it’s good that its there – but it’s not enough and needs to be developed DoD and ourselves, along with IUNVA and ARCO,” said the retired general.

Speaking about membership, General Campbell said there are an estimated 100,000 veterans out there, and the ONE needs to recruit more members: “Not of senior ranks,” he said, “but the influencers. The guy on the back gate who knows everyone. Veterans are much stronger together.”

The general took questions from the floor, most referred to the local branches on the ground accessing ONE Fuchsia funds to help veterans that need assistance. The general explained that retired members of the Defence Forces can get support from the Defence Forces Benevolent Fund as that is its purpose to aid veterans.

Albert Farrell, ONE’s Company Secretary

Next to the podium was Albert Farrell, ONE’s Company Secretary, who spoke about corporate governance and the ONE’s main objective which is to fund the homeless initiative. He briefed members on the last annual audit by Dublin City Council, saying they “passed with flying colours”.  He said the ONE was to be commended on only 45% of monies collected going on wages, which compared to Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust who spend 75% and 73% respectively on theirs. The average ONE wage is €23,000.

Albert said that Revenue and the Charity’s Regulator were both happy with the new branch banking system. During a Q&A session, he advised branches to look at their costing for their annual mass and parade as they were costing too much to run, “Maybe branches could do joint masses?” he said.

Derek Ryan BA, ONE Director

Derek Ryan BA, director of fundraising was next up, he started by thanking all delegates for their hard work in fundraising, “We wouldn’t be the organisation we are without you. It’s you that are out there out on the ground wearing our uniform and shaking buckets to raise much-needed funds for our colleagues.”

Derek explained that there were branches out there who were not supporting the Annual Fuchsia Appeal, which is the main fundraising appeal that supports their homeless initiative. “Parades are important, but they are ancillary to fundraising,” he said. “1/3 of fundraising was being spent on parades and commemorations. Some branches are cost neutral – if we were to look at an American model – we would look at closing branches!”

Derek thanked veterans associations and military groups for their continued fundraising initiatives like Swan Batt who hold the Veterans Black Tie Ball every year, and those behind the recent book launch About Face in Cathal Brugha Bks.

Derek stressed that the organisation needs new members urgently. “If every member brought in one new member we would increase our membership by 100% and not the 10% as stated in the strategic plan.” A bigger membership would give the ONE more leverage when advocation on behalf of veterans. Derek also encouraged females to join the organisation and said it would be great to see females on the board of ONE.

Derek suggested ways for branches to help spread the word of the Fuchsia symbol/badge like branches helping out in their communities by assisting other charitable organisations in fundraising who may, in turn, support the ONE when they are fundraising. If branched could look at holding a culture night with veteran’s photographic displays. The Fuchsia receive national coverage on the RTE’s Fair City program in the past year and at the Defence Forces Family Day in Farmleigh and at the National Ploughing Championships which had 35k and 100k visitors respectively.

 

ONE St Conleths Branch Members

Derek finished by acknowledging the great work of Dick and Sinead from Brú na Bhfiann on the new ONE website. He thanked the marketing committee and said they were always available to branches should they need advice or assistance in fundraising.

 

During a Q&A at the end, it was suggested that paperwork, banners etc carried the Irish language version of the ONE’s Fuchsia slogan: CUIMHNÍMIS REMEMBER THOSE WHO SERVED.

CEO Ollie O’Connor was back up to inform members on the new Veteran Support Centres (VSC) being rolled out in the next few months. It is hoped to have an additional eight VSC setup along with the current two in Drogheda and Limerick, in suitable locations around the country. Ollie announced that the soon to be retired Defence Forces Director of Personel Support Services (PSS), Lt Col Ollie Barbour would be coming onto the board of ONE to help with veterans affairs in these VSC.

DF Veteran, Tony Stafford

The guest speaker was Tony Stafford, a recent resident of Brú na Bhfiann, who had given an interview to An Cosantóir and filmed for the video launch of the 2017 Annual Fuchsia Appeal.

Tony came from a large military family, with over a 100-years-service between his two brothers and two nephews. Tony said he was delighted to hear the PSS being spoken so highly of, and of Veteran Support Centres.

Tony said he was grateful to the Defence Forces for all the training courses he completed in his career. He said growing up he sold papers outside Trinity College, and before finishing in the Defence Forces he was handing papers into Trinity College, and now has a degree in social care.

Tony went on to tell the members of ONE about how he came to live in their homeless initiative Brú na Bhfiann. When his marriage ended and he was driving the streets of Dublin he passed by Brú na Bhfiann and pulled in and parked and broke down he was crying very hard for a man to admit. He had been to the home many times in the course of his work with the HSE, by introducing homeless veterans to the staff. “We all wore the flak jackets, and big boys don’t cry,” he said when it comes to asking for help.

Inside Brú na Bhfiann he said hello I need a room – to which he heard, “whose it for Tony?” from the house manager Dick Dillon. Tony emotionally told Dick it was for himself. Tony waited for news from Dick and was overjoyed when he got the call to say Dick had sorted him a room. Tony had captured the room, as this was for many, the first time they had heard the emotional story form a current resident of one of the homes that they help fund year-in-year-out.

And to hear that he had sorted a mortgage and was moving to a new home just outside the city after only just 10 months in the home. Tony stressed, “it’s not a hostel, it’s a home!” And that every resident had a similar story to tell, some deal with addiction and depression as we all know in this climate “homelessness is a crisis!” Tony said its very important we fund these initiatives, as nobody knows serving or retired if they will need this support. “I owe your organisation my life, I thank you very much.” Tony received a standing ovation for having the moral courage to come and discuss his problems to a room full of his peers, who on hearing his story fully understand the plight of some of our former colleagues.

President Michael Carroll (R) handing over the chain of office to incoming president Tom James (L)

The conference finished with outgoing National President Michael Carroll handing over the chain of office to incoming president Tom James, who coincidently comes from the same branch in Newbridge.

Ollie O’Connor then thanked outgoing National Chairman, Paddy Rooney who has completed his term in office.

Full photo album of the conference below:

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Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie.