CHRISTMAS is a time for joy, love, giving - and peace. And troops from the 111th Infantry Battalion, on a UNIFIL mission led by Sarsfield Barracks, will be some of those giving up their Christmas to make sure the Middle East is a more peaceful place in 2018.
They left their loved ones behind in November for the six-month mission. But despite the fact that the big day is like any other in Lebanon, the nearly 350 Irish soldiers will, no doubt, be reflecting on the meaning of Christmas, and the important work that they do, come December 25.
We caught up with Captain Dermot Considine, 2 ic B Company, Newcastle West.
1 - Is this your first tour abroad? If not, how many times have you worked overseas?
“This is my second overseas tour in Lebanon. I was here with the 49th Infantry Group in 2015.”
2 - Tell us a little about the area you are now based in?
“We are currently based in Southern Lebanon, an area that has seen much conflict down the years. Our primary role here is to monitor the cessation of hostilities along the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel. We are currently supporting the Government to extend its full authority by conducting joint operations with and providing training to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Our presence here contributes to providing a safe and secure environment for some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”
3- What are conditions and the weather over there like?
“Weather conditions were dry, warm and sunny until the start of December. Since the start of December there has been significant rainfall, hail and sleet. There are strong winds and sporadic thunder and lightning storms. Temperatures have dropped significantly and are likely to drop well below zero for much of the winter.”
4 -How will you celebrate Christmas with your fellow soldiers? Tell about what happens on Christmas Day?
“As part of an operational company we constantly have patrols out in our area of responsibility who are tasked with monitoring the cessation of hostilities along the Blue Line, so I will have to wait and see how the roster works out. I will probably go for a run and to Mass in the morning, call or skype everyone at home and we will have a Christmas dinner in the evening. We will probably play a game of cards that night.
5- How is Christmas celebrated among the local population where you are based? Are their different traditions you have noticed over there?
“B Company area of responsibility contains six towns and villages predominantly populated by Shia Muslims with a small number of Sunni Muslims. As such, Christmas is not celebrated here. We are always mindful of and respectful towards the local population, their beliefs and their customs.”
6 - Do you have a message for friends and family back home? How do you keep in touch when you're away?
“I just want to wish my partner, family and friends (home and abroad) a happy and peaceful Christmas and I will see you all when I get home next year.”
7 - How do you deal with homesickness? How do the soldiers keep a festive atmosphere among the troops at this time of year?
“Personally I don’t get homesick. It’s actually a lot tougher on the people and family members at home than it is on us. There are 343 of us out here in United Nations Post 2-45 so there is always a sense of craic and good humour. You can always rely on Irish people, soldiers in particular, to enjoy themselves and be in good spirits, no matter what part of the world they are in.”
8 - Aside from family, what do you miss about Ireland when stationed overseas?
“You miss the small things, like your favourite foods. I miss visiting the Milk Market in Limerick on a Saturday morning.”