“TO HELL & BACK” SPECIAL FORCES ULTIMATE HELLWEEK

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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 €11.69 Also available on Amazon, Book Depository 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 €11.69 Also available on Amazon, Book Depository and Easons.com and can be ordered in all book stores.

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.

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.








‘One-Inch Group’ in the Congo

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As published in An Cosantóir in February 2017
Photos: Christy Fleming & www.unmultimedia.org

The source of information for the following article is an unsigned contemporary report on the activities of 1 Inf Gp in the Congo in 1961, written towards the end of the deployment.

Written by Commanding Officer Lt Col J.C.O. O’Donovan and endorsed by Comdt M.F. Quinlan, and sent in by Congo Veteran Christy Fleming.

ONUC Irish contingent troops en-route to the airport on the first leg of their journey to Elizabethville, where fighting has broken out. 1st December 1961. © UN Photo

1 Inf Gp, or ‘One-Inch Group’ as it was affectionately called by its members, was formed in April 1961 for service with the UN in the Congo. Comprising a company from Eastern Command and one from Southern Command, with a tactical HQ, it was the first Irish formation to be armed entirely with the new FN rifle and the Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle and was designed to be a hard-hitting, highly-powered, independent, self-contained unit.

Shortly before leaving Ireland it was announced they would be heading to Kasai province, where, a few days earlier, tribal warfare had broken out in the area of Mwene-ditu, where the HQ was to be based.

The unit flew out on 25th and 26th May and when they arrived in Mwene-ditu they started taking over from the Ghanaians. However, as a virulent small-pox epidemic was raging in the territory, the senior UN MO ordered that anyone who had not been vaccinated within the previous three months would have to be revaccinated before going into the area. (Throughout their deployment small-pox and other diseases were so rampant that the whole of south Kasai was known as a pathologist’s paradise.)

Irish ONUC soldier Pte W. Ambler on guard duty at Coy HQ in Albertville. 1st August 1960. © UN Photo

Due to the revaccination delay it wasn’t until 17th June that the Group had taken over the entire south Kasai sector, with an area of 6,000 sq miles to look after.

1 Inf Gp was responsible for guarding over 60 miles of important railway line that provided the main supply line from Elisabethville through Katanga and Kasai to Port Franqui.

At least three times a week the unit provided train guards to protect hundreds of refugees travelling on the line, which ran along the borders of Baluba and Kanioka territories, and also between Lulua and Baluba tribes, who were traditional enemies. Any relaxation of vigilance could mean a flare-up of the tribal wars that had unhappily caused so many UN casualties a short time previously.

1 Inf Gp held the area for over two months, eventually occupying posts previously occupied by a battalion with a recce squadron in support.

The unit’s posts were barbed-wire enclosures about the size of a football pitch, which they never left except to patrol in strength, living in primitive conditions under canvas and with a constant shortage of water; one post had to travel over five miles to collect their water in jerry cans.

The Ghanaians had taken their transport with them and the Irish had to wait a considerable time for the arrival of UN replacements. In the meantime, the transport for one company, with two posts over seven miles apart, consisted of one jeep, two pick-ups and a bullet-riddled, five-ton truck. Roads were rutted tracks and after a few miles faces and clothes were covered with a thick coating of black-red dust. Loaded weapons were carried by all personnel at all times. Snakes were also plentiful; at one post four deadly mambas were killed in one day alone.

Irish ONUC soldier on sentry duty at Elisabethville airport. 1st April 1961. © UN Photo

By the time 1 Inf Gp was withdrawn to Kamina, south Kasai was considered a ‘safe area’ due to their efforts, and the UN garrison there was not replaced. When the last company was leaving Mwene-Ditu, the Minister of the Interior came to the railway station to address the Irish, telling them that they were welcome back to south Kasai at any time. At each station on their route deputations met the train and similar speeches were made. It was a testament to the Irish soldiers’ efforts, given that two months before there had been a shooting war between local troops and UN personnel.
On arrival in Kamina after four days travelling in dilapidated railway coaches, OC 1 Inf Gp took over as base commander and as commander of the NW sector of Katanga, an area over 100 sq miles previously occupied by a Nigerian brigade, and which included 100 Swedish troops. In addition to running the huge base and its outposts 1 Inf Gp also had to garrison Kilubi, 60 miles away, where a hydro-electric station supplied power to Kamina.

With such a huge area there wasn’t much time for rest but living conditions were excellent and the work was much easier. Strength on the base, including the Swedes, was roughly 300.

Then, on August 27th 1 Inf Gp was handed two Katangan officers to guard; one a French mercenary. The next day, captured mercenaries started to roll in from the rest of Katanga and in a short time they had 150 under guard, along with 27 others they had rounded up in their own area. These mercenaries were tough and unpredictable; a roving army of ‘guns for hire’ who had fought in Korea, Indo-China, Palestine, Europe, and Cuba.
From 2nd September the Irish unit also had to send a nightly patrol of 50 into Kaminaville, 30km away.

Along with all the extra duties and extra guards, the situation meant that trouble was almost inevitable. It duly arrived.

On the night of September 12th ‘stand-to’ was ordered. There were 14 roads and a railway line leading into the base and it had been acknowledged that it would require a brigade to successfully defend Kamina, a town whose importance was recognised in the saying “who holds Kamina holds Katanga”. With small numbers, the best Lt Col O’Donovan could do was to man strategic strong points around the base and scramble the mobile reserve.

ONUC Irish contingent troops en-route to the airport on the first leg of their journey to Elizabethville, where fighting has broken out. 1st December 1961. © UN Photo

Reports coming in of enemy strength were of 1,200 troops, equipped with long-range mortars, and eight Saracens armed with 57mm cannons, twin machine-guns, and .5” machine guns; completely out-gunning the Irish unit. The enemy also had a reserve of 2,500 troops in the Kaminaville sector and it was claimed that they could arm 20,000 tribesmen.
On the afternoon of September 14th they attacked. The first wave came up against a strong point manned by 29 Swedes with an Irish mortar section in support. This attack was broken up and the 84mm knocked out two Saracens. Irish mortar fire also blew up an enemy ammunition truck containing about five tons of mortar rounds and small-arms ammunition. Lt Col O’Donovan quickly deployed his mobile reserve and further attacks were broken up as they arose. Probing tactics, sniping and mortar fire continued from the edge of the jungle, but men and weapons were quickly moved to counter threats and in all cases the enemy were beaten off.

Late on the evening of the 15th around 30 enemy infiltrated houses on the outskirts of the base where the jungle grew right up to the perimeter. At first light on the following morning an Irish platoon counter-attacked and after a fight lasting about three hours dislodged the enemy who left three dead behind.

When the base came under long-range mortar attack, Irish mortar crews crept forward under fire and brought down deadly fire on the enemy positions. The Irish crews kept changing their positions and continued striking enemy positions while their opponents seemed to be unable to shift their fire quickly in response.

The enemy never set foot on the base again and it was the nearest they came to the airport five miles away. Enemy dead during these actions was estimated at 35 killed and 48 seriously wounded.

The defenders were also subjected to regular air attacks from Fouga jets and all roads and bridges into the base had been blown up. Gradually, however, their meagre force was reinforced by air at night. As each new unit came in they took over positions from the Irish troops who moved further and further out in search of the enemy. While they came up against some sniping and mortar fire they no longer faced serious opposition.

On the night of the 19th 55 men of B Coy in Kilubi, who had been cut off when the enemy blocked and mined the road, were evacuated by helicopters. The rearguard of one officer and seven men destroyed all stores and equipment before taking off. The garrison was no longer needed in Kilubi as the power line had been cut.

1 Inf Gp used its generators for power and to supply emergency lighting for the airport’s runways and power for the control tower.

On receiving information that enemy reinforcements were moving in, 50 Irish troops were sent out to ambush them. Positions were chosen, prepared and manned, but the enemy didn’t materialise. Another 50 Irish were sent out to guard against a possible attack from the Jadotville/Kolwezi road.

By the time a ceasefire came on the night of 20th September the base was manned by 320 Irish, about 300 Swedes, and about 100 Indians, all under the command of Lt Col O’Donovan.

Not only had they secured the base but had advanced out and were holding all the ground up to the jungle’s edge.

Despite the air attacks and the vastly superior range of their opponents’ weapons (until some long-range mortars were captured and turned on the enemy), the only casualties suffered on the base were three Congolese civilian refugees killed and an Italian pilot wounded in the first Fouga attack, and two civilian pilots wounded in a later attack when their plane was bombed on the ground.
After the ceasefire the troops still had to man the outer defences and hold the ground they had won. There was little rest, with 24 hours on, 24 off. Then on 9th October 1 Inf Gp received 24 hours’ notice to pack-up and move to Nyunzu near Niemba.

The Swedish company from Kamina also moved to Nyunzu, still under the command of 1 Inf Gp.

Taking over from the Ghanaians, they were the first white troops to occupy the area. Back into the bush and into tents, but this time at the height of the rainy season. They were also back among the Balubas and carried out frequent patrols to Niemba, and sad pilgrimages to the scene of the ambush.

In Nyunzu they had 144 Katangan prisoners to look after, in addition to guarding the town, a railway, the road network and an airstrip.

By the time the report on which this article is based was written, 1 Inf Gp had occupied seven stations since their arrival in the Congo five months previously, operating for all bar two weeks at ‘battle stations’. The writer of the report said that morale, which had been very high when things were toughest, was dropping steadily with the arrival of each batch of newspapers from Ireland as the troops found that the Irish public were not being informed of their activities. Far from being a nebulous outpost of 35 Inf Bn in Elizabethville, as portrayed in the papers, Kamina was over 200 miles away and was an independent command.

While giving all credit to 35 Inf Bn for the magnificent job they did in Elizabethville, the men of ‘One-Inch’ Group felt they also deserved credit for the work they had done and the hardships they had endured in the Congo; spending their entire service stationed near small towns without shops or modern amenities, confined to their camps because all their deployments were in trouble spots. Credit they certainly deserved in light of the above story.

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








Willys Jeep

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As published in An Cosantóir in April 2016
Report and photos by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald

A US Willys Jeep in World War II

On the 21st January 2016 An Cosantóir visited Sean Curtis, MD of PROTAC and chairman of the Association of Irish Military Enthusiasts (AIME), which is “devoted to the preservation and promotion of our military heritage”. AIME hold a military show, ‘SALUTE’, in the National Show Centre, Swords in August every year. www.aime.ie

Last year Sean was lucky to purchase an old Willys Jeep from the 1950s, ‘ZL1240’, which was one of 40 or so Willys Jeeps in service with the Defence Forces from 1950 to 1966. From what we know the Defence Forces sold ZL1240 in the late 1960s.

An Irish Defence Forces Willys CJ3B ZL1246 on parade on O’Connell Street in 1958. Photo: Howard Woods Collection

Karl Martin’s book ‘Irish Army Vehicles, Transport & Armour Since 1922’ (2002) lists the Willys entry into service. The two models purchased were the CJ3A and CJ3B; these were civilian versions based on the famous and most recognisable vehicle of World War II – Willys Jeep. (Some say the vehicle was nicknamed the ‘Jeep’ after a character in the popular Popeye cartoon of that period.)

Roughly 640,000 Jeeps were built during WWII by Ford and Willys, and used on every front of WWII. They subsequently saw service in Korea and Vietnam. The Jeeps not only proved themselves as reconnaissance vehicles, but also as fire engines, field ambulances, artillery tractors and even locomotives. Even after the war the jeep continued its success story in both army and civilian use.

Willys CJ3A had an L-head 2.2-litre, four-cylinder ‘Go Devil’ side-valve, petrol, 63bhp engine; the CJ3B had an improved F-head 2.2-litre ‘Hurricane’ 73bhp engine. Both were 4×4 drive, three-speed gearbox with a two-speed transfer box. The Ford models were built to Willys specifications from an initial design by the Bantam Car Company who’s prototype ‘Blitz Buggy’ was built in a mere 49 days – but that story is for another day.

Sean purchased the Jeep on the grounds that it would be fully restored and not sold on for profit. This particular Jeep served in 1 Cav Sqn, Cork. Because of the vehicles’ short service there is little known about them and parts are near impossible to source in Ireland, as most ‘off -the-shelf’ parts don’t fit. Sean ordered most of the parts from France and America. Sean’s good friend, ‘Don’, an engineer by trade, and a military vehicle hobbyist who lives in the US took a list of parts and set about collecting them over the last few months. He came to visit Sean in January for ten days; this was their only window to use Don’s expertise on rebuilding the Willys Jeep. Sean had the jeep stripped and cleaned, keeping 90% of the original paint on the outer shell by not sandblasting, and having it ready to be put together with the new parts. Ten days! The task was on…

Sean and Don met over 20 years ago at the War & Peace Revival Vintage & Military History Festival, a five-day military and vintage festival held annually at Folkestone Racecourse, RAF Westenhanger, Hythe, UK. https://warandpeacerevival.com

Don said, Sean and I have been friends for many years and when I visited last year he asked for my help with the Willys Jeep – I had already restored mine. I brought over about 150lbs of parts, tools and equipment to do the job. I have one of each of the Willys Jeep types myself, but my passion is Ford’s GTB 10 ton truck, that saw service in Burma with the US Army.”

We visited Sean and Don again on 28th January after nine days to check their progress. The jeep was completely rewired, using an old style loom, new engines seals fitted, and a complete engine strip and paint had been carried out. There were no indicators on the original version, but by law these now needed to be fitted. However they looked very original on.

Don continued: “This jeep has a history, so it has provenience and will be great to restore and display.”

Sean added: “Its quite possible there’s a number of these vehicles lying in sheds somewhere in Ireland.”

By the time the ten days were up, we saw the Jeep running smoothly and in a great display condition; still retaining its authentic look. The Jeep was road-tested with two very happy enthusiasts on board. Sean hopes to have it out for this year’s 100th centenary parades, as it would have been originally on O’Connell Street in 1966 on the parade to mark the 50th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Well done to Sean and Don, on their successful ten-day rebuilding venture.

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








President Visits Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave)

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

On Wednesday 23rd November President Higgins visited Brú na bhFiann (Home of the Brave) to see
the work being done in ONE’s original home for former members of the Defence Forces who may have fallen on hard times and need somewhere to live. The president met several residents and staff from the home as well as some residents and staff from ONE’s other homes in Letterkenny and Athlone who were there for the occasion.

Brú Na BhFiann manager, Dick Dillon; asst manager, Sinéad Black; President Higgins; CQMS Michael Tynan (retd); and ONE CEO, Ollie O’Connor.

The current Brú na BhFiann (the original, smaller home was opened in 1994) is a six-storey, custom-built building that opened in 2003. It is managed by Sgt Major Dick Dillon (retd), assisted by Sinéad Black and a small dedicated staff. The home can cater for up to 30 residents in subsidised temporary accommodation.

The story of Brú na bhFiann began in the winter of 1988/89 during an earlier crisis in homelessness, when a number of former soldiers were among seven people who died from hypothermia while living rough on the streets of Dublin. So touched were they by the plight of some former colleagues that Pat Dunleavy and others within ONE decided to start a home for ex-soldiers down on their luck, even going as far as raising mortgages on their own houses to generate the necessary finance.

President Higgins with residents of Brú Na BhFiann.

It was in this spirit that ONE’s CEO, Ollie O’Connor, welcomed the president to the home, saying:

“Brú na bhFiann is a home built on a dream of providing a safe haven for those who through their service in the Defence Forces brought honour to Ireland, and to ensure that never again would a soldier be found dead on our streets.” In closing, he said: “In this historic year of 2016, homelessness is still very much a part of Ireland’s story and we have yet to fully attain our goals.”

Addressing those gathered, President Higgins said:

“I am delighted as Patron of the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel to have this opportunity to visit this wonderful facility and it is appropriate to have these great services available to people who served Ireland at home and abroad. It is a basic right to have food and shelter and it’s important to take steps to break the cycle of poverty; while a good health service and housing policy are very important, it is also important that people recover, as well as the economy.”

To fund ONE’s valiant homeless initiatives, which are acknowledged by the government and the Defence Forces/DoD, the organisation needs to raise €600,000 annually to continue running the homes and maintain them in a satisfactory condition.

Brú Na BhFiann manager, Dick Dillon and asst manager, Sinéad Black showing President Higgins one of the rooms available

As one small way of fundraising, a number of guest rooms are available in Brú na bhFiann for overnight stays for all serving and former members of the Defence Forces, priced at €30 for a single room, €55 for a double. To make a reservation, phone Brú Na BhFiann on 01-485 0600, Monday to Friday during business hours. By availing of this service you can also help to support the home’s great work.

The president with managers of ONE’s other homes and drop-in centres.

In addition to its other functions ONE has also assumed responsibility for representing DF pensioners, as the representative bodies PDFORRA and RACO can only represent serving personnel. ONE has also broadened its lobbying abilities to represent ex-service personnel in a wide range of ancillary areas. For more information on ONE, visit www.oneconnect.ie

 

 

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