‘My actions can be the difference between life and death’

AN EXPLOSIVE Ordnance Officer from North Kilkenny writes from Lebanon about his background and his daily routine on the ground.

My name is Stephen and I am a Captain in the Defence Forces. I come from North Kilkenny and have been a member of the Defence Forces for over ten years.

Since my commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in 2002 I have served in a variety of roles within the Defence Forces, from providing Escorts of Honour for foreign heads of state to participating in a number of operations on the island. I also completed an Ordnance Mechanical Engineers course in the Curragh. This has allowed me to participate in the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL). This is why I am now based outside a small town in South Lebanon called Tebnine. Irish soldiers are welcomed in the area as peace keepers and with our distinctive blue helmets and body armour we have become a common sight on the streets of the towns and villages within the 105 Infantry Battalions Area Of Operations (AO).

As the Battalion Ordnance Officer I have the responsibility of ensuring that all of the Irish Battalions various weapon systems are operational. As Irish soldiers, we have some of the most modern equipment available from the Steyr A2 Assault Rifle, the Mowag Piranha III Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), the Light Tactical Armoured Vehicle (LTAV) to our Close Reconnaissance Vehicles (CRV`s).

My team and I have the task of ensuring that this equipment is ready to deploy at a moments notice, ready to react to any situation that our soldiers may find themselves in, this being a very volatile part of the world.

A typical day starts at 6am with reveille in Camp Shamrock. After a quick breakfast it is off to the workshops to make a start on the days work. Part of the daily routine is to check that our Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) equipment is fully ready for deployment. With the sound of multiple rocket launches still fresh in my ears from the night before, there is an added incentive to be prepared as the EOD team is typically tasked at a moments notice. This part of the job can often be the most dangerous, as often times it requires the EOD operator to approach an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), in order to render it safe. The knowledge that each of my actions can often be the difference between life and death is never far from my mind. After lunch at 1pm the work continues, today this involves my participation in a patrol to our two forward patrol bases which are located on the Blue Line. This is the agreed demarcation zone between Lebanon and Israel. There has always been conflict in this area and the war ravaged countryside constantly reminds you of the dangers that are present. The journey to and from Camp Shamrock brings the patrol members within touching distance of the mine fields that are strewn about the area, another product of the tensions between these two countries. The sight of bomb scarred buildings concentrates the mind and keeps everybody alert. Once my work at the patrol bases is complete the patrol returns to Camp Shamrock were we can gratefully begin to unwind from the rigours of the day. There is now time to do some training, making use of the gymnasium which is housed in a semi permanent structure in the camp. After this I can catch up on some paperwork and have a chat with the other lads who are accommodated in the same building as me. A phone call home or skyping my fiancée gives me a chance to catch up with news from home and of course the wedding plans. This is extremely valuable time as being so far from home makes me appreciate the people that are at home preparing for Christmas. It also makes me look forward to when I will be able to go home on leave in March 2012. After this it is time to complete my preparations for the following morning, making sure that I am ready for yet another early start.

Our days work in south Lebanon never ends in reality. We are always on standby to be called at anytime seven days of the week to respond to what ever South Lebanon may throw at us. This may be an EOD call out or a quick movement to our bunkers if required to. I will miss not being at home for Christmas. I look forward to seeing my fiancée, family and friends in the New Year and I would like to wish them all a happy Christmas. It will be tough not being there for the family get together and of course the Christmas dinner. However as I look over the rolling countryside towards the hill top villages of Hadatha and Beit Yahoun, I am happy to be an Irish soldier that can hopefully play my part in bringing about positive change in this war torn country.

*Due to Stephens particular job as an Explosive Ordnance Officer they do not give out their full name and addresses in line with Defence Forces Policy.