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UNTSO—OBSERVER GROUP LEBANON     By Flight Lieutenant Rich Huse

FLTLT Rich Huse with Team SIERRA at UNTSO HQ.
FLTLT Rich Huse RNZAF (2nd from L, back row) with his team at UNTSO headquarters.

 Our primary role is to patrol and monitor the ‘Blue Line’ (Israeli Defence Force Withdrawal Line from 2000) and to observe and report upon violations and potential threats to the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701—a resolution passed after the cessation of hostilities between the IDF and the Lebanese Islamic resistance movement, Hezbollah, in 2006.

As the leader of Team SIERRA, I manage 10 UN Military Observers (UNMOs), undertaking a combination of duties:
• patrolling (on foot, in armoured vehicles and within helicopters),
• investigation of specific incidents, and
• provision of continuation training for all personnel.
Our area of responsibility is the Eastern sector within the Area of Operations, sandwiched between Israel to the South and Syria to the East.

Lebanon is a remarkable country; a juxtaposition of beautiful landscapes littered with remnants of war, and a gregarious people scarred by generations of conflict. Despite conflicts which had all but wrenched the country apart, the Lebanese people maintain an improbable optimism for their future and that of their families, displaying a resilience which has been forged by many decades of uncertainty and fear.

It’s a small country (10,201 sq km, a mere 4% of the total land area of New Zealand). I can spend a morning navigating through minefields in an armoured vehicle along the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, then that evening be back in Beirut, the capital. (Where the local Almaza beer is about US dollars a bottle!)
The most rewarding part of the work here is our interaction with the people. Not only do we get to experience the rich Arabic and Lebanese heritage of the local population, but we also get to sample the culture of our fellow UNMOs, from 24 different countries. Within my team, I have had the privilege of serving alongside officers from Nepal, China, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Chile, Argentina, Serbia, Russia, Canada, Belgium, Ireland and even an exotic country called Australia.

The generous leave policy employed by UNTSO has provided me with the opportunity to travel far and wide, including Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, Spain (Ibiza) and the Netherlands, as well as a trip to the Czech Republic planned for February).

The combination of the mission, the cultural diversity, the travel and the people has confirmed my 12 month deployment with UNTSO OGL as a highlight of my career in the RNZAF and it will be an experience that I will always cherish.

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