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Air Force Officer reports back from the Middle East

20111122_WN_C1022490_0002 - FLTLT Warren Snalam, deployed to the Middle East, in front of an old Mil-8 Syrian Army Helicopter at the war museum in Damascus.

January 2012

Air Force Flight Lieutenant Warren Snalam is coming towards the end of a 12-month deployment to United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in the Middle East.

FLTLT Snalam has previously deployed to the United Nations Iran Iraq Military Observer Group. He says while once again he’s deployed to the Middle East on a UN mission, this time however his job is quite different.

“My job as a UN Military Observer has meant I’ve spent the last nine months on the Golan Heights monitoring a section of the border between Israel and Syria.”

FLTLT Snalam is one of eight Kiwis currently deployed to Syria, Israel and Southern Lebanon under UNTSO, which was established in 1948 to supervise the truce agreed at the conclusion of the first Arab/Israeli War. It is the oldest UN peacekeeping mission and there are 24 contributing nations providing a total of 153 military observers to monitor cease-fires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating and assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region.

FLTLT Snalam points out that it’s also NZ Defence Force’s longest serving mission, with NZ providing personnel to UNTSO for over 50 years. “Our initial involvement in 1954 was based on the wish to make a tangible contribution, during NZ’s term on the Security Council, to UN peacekeeping efforts along the disputed Arab-Israeli border. NZDF’s participation in UNTSO demonstrates our continued commitment to UN peacekeeping operations.“

His job has meant several trips to the neighbouring countries of Syria and Lebanon. “With the current situation in these countries, these visits were very interesting and gave me a chance to meet and talk with some of the local people and see some of the many historic sights.

“In some of the countries, we have to be careful where we go and what we say at times but so far, there has been no immediate danger, apart from that posed by some of the "creative" driving techniques displayed by some of the locals!”

The trips have given FLTLT Snalam a real appreciation for Kiwi life. “As diverse and different as some of these people are, I have found they have much in common. No matter where people are from or what their circumstance, most want the same basics out of life, ie a positive future for their kids and a safe and secure place to live. During my time here I have often realised how much I take the relative peace and freedom I experience back home in New Zealand for granted.”

“The biggest challenge of this trip for me is the time spent away from my family. My deployment is for one year. Being able to skype home has made the tyranny of distance easier to overcome, but nothing can take the place of a hug from your kids.”

“Working here in the Middle East with the UN is a great experience and one that I will always remember for the friends I've made from all over the world and the things I've seen.

“I feel very proud to represent the NZ Defence Force in this mission and the more time I spend here, the more I realise just how lucky I am to be a Kiwi. Or from the words of Fred Dagg –‘we don't know how lucky we are mate’”.


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