Thursday, May 07, 2009

439-strong Irish contingent serving in Chad

(Back, from left) Fr Pat Mernagh, Davidstown; Pte Richard Walsh, Ballindaggin; Pte John Ryan, Castlebridge; Pte Philip Doyle, Oylegate; Cpl George Howlin, Courtnacuddy; Sgt Tom Devereux, Milehouse, Enniscorthy; Cpl Pat Codd, Rathnure; Cpl Shane Kehoe,...

Wexford soldiers protecting those under threat in Chad
Wednesday May 06 2009

COUNTY WEXFORD soldiers are well represented among those members of the Irish Defence Forces currently serving in Chad.

Almost 20 of the 439-strong Irish contingent in Chad's volatile eastern flank, around 30 miles from the Sudanese border, hail from the Model County.

Speaking from Chad last week, Company Sergeant Derek Herbage from Gorey, said that the Wexford natives are all working in different areas, from signals and transport to engineering and ordinance to reconnaissance. The chaplain for the 99th Infantry Battalion, Fr. Pat Mernagh, is also a Wexford man.

They arrived in Chad in January and have served there during a historic time for the Defence Forces as the command of the Chad peace enforcement mission recently changed from the European Union to United Nations, meaning the troops now wear the familiar blue beret of the U.N. even though their operations remain the same under the U.N. mission, known as MINURCAT.

The Irish camp is based next to a town called Goz Beida and the troops are primarily responsible for protecting refugees fleeing from the violence in Sudan as well as Chadians displaced by local unrest.

'Our first and main task to protect civilians in danger and protect the refugees,' said Derek.

The troops also provide protection for the NGOs working in the area, which include Irish organization like Concern.

Though the work in the African country is tough, Derek said the facilities in the camp are excellent and spirit and morale very high.

This is helped greatly by Fr. Mernagh, whom Derek said is brilliant for organizing all kinds of events to keep the troops amused when they have free time.

At the moment the 99th infantry battalion is preparing to hand over their duties to the 100th infantry battalion and Derek said they are all looking forward to coming home and seeing their families in late May or early June.

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