ALMOST 200 Defence Forces personnel leaving for a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon are “more than soldiers but ambassadors for your country”, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has said after reviewing the ranks at Sarsfield Barracks.
Minister Coveney expressed confidence that the 189 men and women of the 49th infantry group would “maintain the outstanding reputation of the Irish Defence Forces as committed, conscientious professional and humane peacekeepers”.
The soldiers are heading on a six-month mission to Lebanon and comprise mostly of members of 1 Brigade in the south of the country, 66 of them attached to the 12th infantry battalion at Sarsfield Barracks.
A total of 23 are from Limerick city and county including their experienced sergeant major, Stan Hurley from Garryowen, who has 35 years of service.
Sgt Major Hurley said he didn’t expect much trouble from the ranks when it comes to whipping them into shape.
“We have the bulk of the training done. They are a very well disciplined group with a lot of experience - a vast number of tours under our belts everywhere form Afghanistan to East Timor, Kosovo, Chad and even the Arctic Circle. As well as that, there are a lot of lads with a lot of service done in the Lebanon itself and, for myself, this is my sixth tour there. The first one I went on was in 1983.”
Sgt Major Hurley said that while things had settled since the dreadful war during the 1980s, the wider Middle East remained volatile and nothing could be taken for granted.
Minister Coveney noted the recent death in Lebanon of a Spanish peacekeeper, killed by an Israeli mortar not far from where the Irish soldiers will be operating close to the border.
“I want to repeat that the decision by government to send troops overseas is never taken lightly. Your safety and the safety of all Irish Defence Force personnel serving in all overseas missions is always the concern for me, for government and of course the military authorities,” said the minister.