Two Australian aircraft and crew have been sent to support the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) after conflict broke out in the country in December 2013.
Some 30,000 feet above the ground in South Sudan, the pilot of an Australian C-17 Globemaster was kitted out in a flak jacket and helmut, preparing to clear the country’s airspace.
“We’re flying at a specific profile, which will mitigate a lot of the risk that the aircraft will be put in,” Flight Lieutenant Luke Ridgway recently told UN Radio Miraya. “Being on the ground in South Sudan for a minimal amount of time has been our goal.”
In December 2013, after conflict broke out in the world’s youngest nation, Acting Australian Prime Minister Warren Truss committed two Australian aircraft and crew to support UNMISS.
The team has used three air crews to keep the enormous C-17 running constantly between Juba and the UN logistical hub in Brindisi, Italy, bringing vital supplies. Each load has three classic, metal containers like those on any cargo ship.
“Inside, those containers are loaded up with supplies … like water purification kits, sanitation kits, tents and tarpaulins and also defensive stores for United Nations personnel that are dispersed around the capital and regionally in South Sudan,” Lieutenant Ridgway said.
“The UN and UNMISS can only stress the extremely valuable role that the Australian forces are playing right now,” said UNMISS Spokesperson Ariane Quentier. “Coming back with all these supplies is vital and crucial for the mission to continue and for the crisis to be addressed.”
Lietenant Ridgway was modest about the part he was playing to assist in the crisis, which began on 15 December with clashes between pro-and anti-government forces in Juba before spreading to several other states.
“It’s very humbling to be a part of this mission,” he said. “It becomes a lot more human when you’re there on the ground, and you see the people, you fly over the refugee camps, as opposed to seeing it on the news.”
And it’s very humbling that we can help even if it is only via shipping containers to the capital,” the flight lieutenant added. “It may seem like a small part but it’s a large cog in a large wheel that is helping the people of South Sudan.”