By SRO Kjell Michelsen
My second and last deployment to South Lebanon as part of the UN forces stationed there was in the spring of 1988. The previous year the UN had established a quick reaction force in South Lebanon, called Force Mobile Reserve or FMR for short. This force was created in the aftermath of a bloody clash between French UN soldiers and soldiers from the Shiite Amal movement. After this incident, it became clear that the UN forces in the area needed a mobile, heavily armed quick reaction force that could assist other UN forces should it be necessary. FMR was via the UNIFIL (United Interim Force in Lebanon) Force Commander placed under direct orders from the UN Secretary-General which at that time was Pérez de Cuéllar.
We moved into a brand new camp near the Lebanese town of Qana. Qana, by the way, is best known as the place where Jesus performed his first public miracle – the turning of a large quantity of water into wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1–11).
There was us in the Norwegian platoon, which was set up with two armored personnel carriers and two infantry squads with eight men in each. The FMR camp was indeed a multi-ethnicity camp. We had soldiers from, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Ghana, Fiji, and Nepal. We each had our own corner of the camp, but we shared the same mess hall and training facilities. Our FMR commander was Irish, so we followed pretty much an Irish military structure, with commands, morning muster and more. It took a bit to get used to their way of doing things, but we got used to it pretty quickly.
Although much of Lebanon at that time was showing evidence of a civil war, still parts of the country were beautiful, with plenty of vast fields of olive and citrus trees, rolling hills and valleys, small villages and bigger towns, and Mount Hermon, where it would snow every winter. As a Quick Reaction Force, we would sometimes be on mobile patrols for several days in a row, often spending the nights out in the fields or on one of the many UN outposts. Sometimes we would drive out to the coastal city of Tyre, where we would tour the ancient Roman ruins there and have dinner at one of the many local restaurants – a nice break from the field rations.
Often in our off time, we would sign up for one of the many biblical tours that the chaplain we had would arrange. We would travel to Israel and visit Jerusalem and trace in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples. We would visit Masada, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea, where we, of course, had pictures taken while floating, reading a newspaper. We would tour one of the old markets, where all the salesmen had a special price just for you, and sample the local food, that often was a mixture of Arab, Jewish, and French cooking.
I ended up spending two years in Lebanon on two different deployments. One day I would love to go back and visit.
Until next time, be safe, be happy and when you have a chance, see the world.