NATO Commander visits the Irish Defence Forces


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 –

Uachtarán na hÉireann – President Mary McAleese


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 –

Queen Elizabeth II state visit to Ireland


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 –

The World’s Toughest Cycle Race (RAAM)


Published in An Cosantóir on June 1, 2011.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos courtesy of Donncha Cuttriss

01 RAAMIt requires stamina, true grit and sheer determination to take on a gruelling 12-day, 3,000-mile journey on a bicycle, but that is exactly what 39-year-old, former corporal, Donncha Cuttriss has been training for every day since he left the Defence Forces in January. His goal is to be the first Irishman to participate as a solo competitor in the Race Across America (RAAM), widely recognised as ‘the world’s toughest cycle race’. The race starts in Oceanside, California, and ends in Anapolis, Maryland, passing through Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania on the way, and climbing to 10,849ft at its highest point.RAAM logo

Donncha (‘Capper’ to his friends) is an ultra-cyclist adventure sports athlete with a growing reputation. The ethos that moulds an athlete like Donncha is probably best summed up in a quote from the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) cyclist Lance Armstrong who said:

“Pain is temporary; it may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”

02 RAAMWhen Donncha left the Defence Forces in January 2011 he had completed 21 years service, during which he had served in 1 Fd CIS, the DFTC, and 1 Fd Engr Coy. He also had 10 trips overseas to missions in Lebanon, Eritrea, Liberia and Chad. He credits his military service with equipping him with the necessary attitude and skills required when training for a challenge such as the RAAM. Donncha must average 22 hours cycling a day to achieve the fitness and stamina levels needed to compete in the race. He has already completed 24- and 30-hour cycles with his crew, and his training continues. He departed for the US on May 16th to complete his last month’s training before the big race starts on June 15th. On the day the race starts RTÉ are to broadcast a documentary on Donncha’s training and preparations for the race.

03 RAAMUsing his efforts to raise money for charity is also very important to the Corkman and his chosen charity is the Meath-based Aisling Group International, founded in 1988 by Marie Byrne, which provides help and information for people in relation to drugs and alcohol misuse. The Aisling Group’s domestic and international charity work received deserved recognition in 2008 when it was presented with an All Islands Special Endeavour Award by President Mary McAleese. Thankfully, people like Donncha give us mere mortals a chance to help worthwhile charities the easy way, by ‘donating a little to help a lot’.

04 RAAMFundraising was launched 2 months ago by Cork’s Lord Mayor Michael O’Connell where Donncha was accorded a Civic Reception. In one event Donncha’s friends organised a 25km charity cycle through Cork City, setting out from Collins Bks and stopping off at the Elm Tree Bar & Restaurant in Glounthane for light refreshments. The Elm Tree is owned by Capper’s old schoolmate and lifelong friend Derek Walshe who generously donated €3,000 towards Donncha’s costs for the RAAM, which are estimated at €20,000. Everything received above that amount will go to the Aisling Group. Donncha’s bike worth €6,000 was sponsored by in Dublin.

Another of Donncha’s old school friends, Sgmn Darren O’Connell (1 Fd CIS), also deserves special mention for his enthusiastic support for Capper’s efforts. Anyone wishing to donate to Donncha’s venture can do so through the ‘Donate’ section of the Aisling Group’s website, or ring 046-9074300. You can follow Donncha on his journey by visiting blog

Donncha signed off, saying:

“I hope I can inspire others to believe they can achieve whatever they want to achieve in their lives, and I also hope I can provide any information and support to help anyone to achieve their life’s goals.”

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

UNIFIL An Irish/Lebanese Experience


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

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 –