From Soldier To Peacekeeper
By Dialogo April 01, 2013
Abraham Mahshie/Diálogo Staff
In discussing how he measures success on a peacekeeping mission, Chilean Army Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Vásquez recounted a story from one of his three missions to Haiti. He was on patrol in a United Nations armored vehicle on a dirt road in the countryside when he noticed a boy with a bicycle that had broken down by the roadside. The bulky white vehicle stopped and Lt. Col. Vásquez stepped out, taking off his blue U.N. helmet and practically all of his gear with the exception of a small sidearm. He approached the boy and knelt down beside him to repair the chain on his bicycle.
Lt. Col. Vásquez, now assistant director of the Chilean Joint Peace Operations Center (CECOPAC), explained, “Those things are momentary things, they are small, but they make our daily work satisfying and at the end of the day, at the end of the mission, I can say, ‘I did my duty.’ ”
The small act of kindness reflects the humanitarian training and cultural understanding that peacekeeping troops receive at CECOPAC, which is housed in state-of-the-art facilities in Santiago. Army Major José Carrera, chief of the educational department, said the mission of CECOPAC is to impart the culture of peace and stability operations that is distinct from traditional military training.
“For us, it is a tremendous challenge — the challenge of taking off the green helmet and putting on the blue helmet,” said Maj. Carrera. The objective is achieved by focusing on the role of the United Nations in peacekeeping missions, he said, and not delving into topics of military training, since all military students are selected for the school based on a high degree of proficiency in their respective forces.
Lt. Col. Vásquez said the institute has been instructing Chilean and regional peacekeepers for the past 10 years, establishing an international reputation for high-caliber pre-deployment training. He said regular communications with troops on the ground and debriefings of those returning from missions allow instructors to constantly improve the curriculum. “We can say that we have been reorienting our instruction on a daily basis, and this gives us peace of mind, knowing with certainty that what we are doing is well done.”
Blue Helmet Culture
Lt. Col. Vásquez said the greatest difference between a Soldier before he enters CECOPAC and after is a profound understanding of his peacekeeping mission. CECOPAC provides the tools for peacekeepers to have a legal and human understanding of the mission. “When deployed on the ground, the men know perfectly well that they are there to help, and their condition as a member of the Military, as a Soldier, carrying a weapon does not prevent them from helping,” he said.
The CECOPAC curriculum consists of basic, specific and advanced modules with several courses in each. The Core Pre-Deployment Training Material in the basic module is part of the standard U.N. peacekeeping operations training. It is provided to military, police and civilian personnel to give them the basic principles, guidelines and policies of U.N. peacekeeping. The specific module provides general knowledge of the mission area and operational tasks performed. The advanced module covers practical work in the field that allows students to analyze the needs and conditions for the social, political and economic development of the area to which they are deployed.
CECOPAC reports directly to the minister of defense through the chief of the Joint Staff of Chile. This streamlined command structure contributes to CECOPAC’s success by allowing immediate curriculum changes based on lessons learned in the field. “This is the good fortune we have,” Maj. Carrera said. “If we see that a pre-deployment course is missing things that are fundamental for those operating on the mission, we make changes to the next course.”
The mission in Haiti, where 516 of Chile’s 552 peacekeepers are deployed, has changed considerably since U.N. peacekeepers first arrived on the island nation in 2004. Lt. Col. Vásquez, who served three missions in Haiti, explained that the security and stability established by peacekeepers throughout the years has helped the mission evolve from the possibility of achieving “real contact” in the kinetic, military sense to a new form of cooperation with civilians focused on community engagement and development.
Army Capt. Roberto Ramis, commander of the Army’s Center for International Operations Training in Peldehue, said the combined effort of Chile’s peacekeeping schools has expanded beyond purely security-related aspects. “It’s not just establishing and maintaining order. Chile is helping rebuild the country,” he said.
Standing at the end of a line of white U.N. Humvees and armored vehicles used for training, Capt. Ramis said peacekeepers are seen as much more than providers of security by the local population. “We need to help, we need to support. The people are going to see a blue cap, United Nations, and [say], ‘Help me, please,’ ” he said.
Such was the case on September 19, 2006, when a Chilean peacekeeper medic was called upon to assist in childbirth. Since medics on peacekeeping missions are trained in childbirth, Capt. Ramis said the peacekeeper was able to help. The Haitian baby girl was named “Chilienne” in honor of the peacekeeper who assisted her mother.
Globally Dependent, Regionally Integrated
In May 2004, Chile was faced with a tough decision. The country held one of the rotating seats at the United Nations Security Council, but its international commitment was in deficit. However, the Chilean Military was strong, well-organized, and the country was seen as a stable democracy with a great deal of potential. It could serve in international missions, further upgrade and integrate its technology and processes with partner nations, and provide opportunities for its troops to gain global experience. When the situation in Haiti deteriorated rapidly and the U.N. called for an international force to stabilize the country, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos committed his peacekeeping troops. In 72 hours, Chilean forces were on the ground in Haiti, drawing widespread global praise for the high degree of coordination they demonstrated.
“When a country shows such a deployment capacity, it demonstrates that they have Armed Forces with a high degree of training,” said Chilean security analyst Guillermo Holzmann. Chile’s commitment to United Nations peacekeeping operations is seen by many as a product of its robust economy, stable democracy and strong global presence. Chile is one of the most globally engaged countries in the world, with 59 bilateral or regional trade agreements. “Because Chile is a point of reference, it is important that it maintains stability, that it maintains an international concern and, consequently, that it has a greater responsibility,” Holzmann said.
The country’s involvement in Haiti’s development includes the Peacekeeping Engineering Company, a joint Ecuadorean-Chilean unit that is helping to build roads and schools. Similarly, Chile works hand in hand with Argentine forces in Haiti and Cyprus. For two countries that were at the cusp of conflict 30 years ago, their mutual confidence and peacekeeping collaboration across the globe has led to the formation of Southern Cross, a joint peacekeeping unit consisting of eight helicopters, two ships and 1,050 troops on standby to assist in case of a hemispheric crisis. Chile is also renewing historical ties to Central America in a program that will incorporate 32 Salvadoran Army Soldiers and a Honduran peacekeeper into the Chilean Battalion.
Lt. Col. Vásquez characterized the experience of serving on a peacekeeping mission as “transcendental.” Like traditional military operations, there is a high risk to the Soldier, and he must protect his comrades as well as himself. But, there is also a humanitarian element derived from experiencing a new culture and way of life firsthand. Lt. Col. Vásquez said the sharing that happens when a peacekeeper returns to a unit in his home country also enriches the institution professionally.
The care provided to CECOPAC students in their education is reflected in the caring that students bring to their peacekeeping missions, said the lieutenant colonel. “In addition, we impart a special essence that is the Chilean love of wanting to do things well, of wanting to do things with a vision of what’s beyond, not only with what we must do, but with what we can do.”
Chilean Joint Peace Operations Center Courses
European Union Operation ALTHEA: CHILFOR Pre-Deployment Course (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
U.N. Force in Cyprus Pre-Deployment Course
U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) Command and Staff Pre-Deployment Course
Pre-Deployment MINUSTAH Contingent Course
MINUSTAH Engineer Company Pre-Deployment Course
MINUSTAH Chilean Air Force Helicopter Group Pre-Deployment Course
Introduction to Peace Operations Course
Peace Operations Logistic and Financial Administration Course
Southern Cross Peacekeeping Force Course
Military Experts on Mission Course
MINUSTAH U.N. Police Course
Humanitarian Operations Course
Correspondents in Complex Peace Operations
LIEUTENANT COLONEL RODRIGO VASQUES HAS NO IDEA WHAT A PEACE MISSION IS, THE TRIPS ARE ONLY TO FILL HIS POCKETS WITH MONEY, IT IS A SHAME HOW THAT MONEY IS SPENT. LIEUTENANT COLONEL RODRIGO VASQUES SAYS IN HIS ACCOUNT THAT THIS IS A CHALLENGE FOR US, I WOULD TELL HIM THAT IT IS A CHALLENGE TO CONTINUE FILLING HIS POCKETS WITH MONEY WITHOUT THE GOVERNMENT NOTICING. This is cool