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“Stepping into the unknown”: Irish soldier on peacekeeping in Lebanon

“I love my job.”

That’s what one Irish Defence Forces troop, who asked to remain anonymous, told Gript shortly after his return from Lebanon.

“If I hadn’t decided to join with my friend that day, I don’t know where my life would be.”

The soldier, who will be called “Liam,” described how he believes his late grandfather led him down the path of military service.

“I WAS PLEADING FOR SOME DIRECTION IN LIFE”

“I was 23 when I joined,” he said.

“I had dropped out of college and worked a number of terrible jobs that had me depressed. I remember spending time at my grandfather’s graveside pleading for some direction in life.

“Strangely enough the following week the army was accepting applicants, my friend called me and asked me to apply with him. I had nothing to lose, so I just went for it. My grandfather spent his life in the army, so I’m certain he pointed me on this path.”

“MY MOTHER WASN’T DELIGHTED”

From the moment he joined the army, he says, he wanted to go overseas and serve as a peacekeeper.

“Once I joined that was the first goal,” he said.

“Having multiple family members who served overseas and seeing pictures of them made me both proud and curious to follow in those footsteps.”

However, as he prepared to go to Lebanon for 6 months, not all of his family were thrilled about the idea of their young relative being shipped halfway across the world to a dangerous region.

“My mother wasn’t delighted I was going, let’s just say that,” he said.

“I feel the most difficult part for her was not having a full understanding of where I was going or what I was going to be doing.”

After coming back earlier this year, he added: “It was tough leaving home, but that feeling of coming home to Dublin is unbelievable.”

“STEPPING INTO THE UNKNOWN”

More Irish troops’ lives have been lost in the unstable state of Lebanon than in any other UN peacekeeping mission, with a total of 46 casualties sustained in total since 1978.

Asked if he was initially fearful of the danger of being stationed there, Liam said he was at first, but he got over it.

“At first I was, but I suppose it’s like anything in life, stepping into the unknown,” he said.

“We are trained very well when we join in case we encounter certain situations.”

Luckily, he didn’t experience any such situations. “Thankfully,” he added.

“SHOWING THE UTMOST RESPECT” TO LOCALS

He said he already knew a bit about the situation in Lebanon from his uncles who had served there.

“The overriding theme they told me about was the close bond the Irish soldiers had with the local population, and also about the dangers they faced back then,” he said.

“In my opinion I feel we benefit greatly from the professionalism and good nature of the troops before us.”

He said he tried to continue the “great foundations” laid by prior peacekeepers “by showing utmost respect to everyone I spoke to.”

“I DIDN’T FIND OVERSEAS BORING AT ALL”

Much of day-to-day army life has a reputation for being boring, with old soldiers telling jokes about the unofficial military motto: “hurry up and wait.”

However, Liam said he “didn’t find overseas boring at all.”

“You hear this a lot in general day to day of being a soldier, along with other buzzwords or catchphrases,” he said.

“My thinking of it is that there’s a massive emphasis put on timekeeping in the military, and rightly so. Which sometimes leads to the situation where you arrive somewhere a bit earlier than necessary.”

He said that while there were “some busy days and some slow days,” on the slow days there was always an opportunity to learn something.

“On days where you have spare time you can help people in different roles to try and get experience in other departments,” he said.

“There were lads that had interest in becoming heavy vehicle mechanics with the army, so in their spare time they would be down helping the fitters. There are so many different skills you can learn in the army and overseas is the best environment to do that.”

“I’M DELIGHTED I’VE FOUND THE ARMY”

Reminiscing on his experience overseas, he said “I would definitely be open to going again.

“While serving in Lebanon I was proud to wear the uniform,” he said.

“I love my job. If I hadn’t decided to join with my friend that day, I don’t know where my life would be.”

For anyone who was in a similar position to the one he was in – “moving from a job you hate to one you hate a bit less” – he said “it’s a massive opportunity.”

“Once you finished training there are so many skills you can learn and roles to perform which can give great job satisfaction,” he said.

“I’m delighted I’ve found the army and that I’m continuing on from family members before me. I’ve no intentions on leaving at the moment.”

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