Uruguayan Armed Forces Saves Lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo

By Geraldine Cook
March 07, 2016

The Military contingent participating in a United Nations humanitarian aid mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to save the lives of people who need helicopter MEDEVAC services in remote areas of this worn torn country.

The Uruguayan Military contingent participating in the United Nations (UN) Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) continues to save the lives of victims in the longstanding African conflict. In response to recent clashes that have left dozens dead and wounded, the Uruguayan peacekeepers conducted medical evacuations (MEDEVACs) in the country’s eastern region.

The Uruguayan Air Force (FAU) conducted the most recent MEDEVAC on February 13th, when members of the Helicopter Detachment of the Uruguayan Aviation Unit (URUAVU) used a Bell 212 helicopter – identified as UN 851 – to complete a rescue in eastern region of Mwenga. After inclement weather delayed the morning rescue for more than two hours, the URUAVU team was able to fly a doctor and a nurse to Mwenga to transport a male malaria patient to a facility for treatment.

Two days earlier, the URUAVU crew conducted a medical evacuation in the city of Bushekere, where they flew for more than an hour between mountains before landing in a secure landing spot where the Congolese Armed Forces had cordoned off the area.

At a medical facility, doctors treated a boy who had facial lacerations and a man who had been shot in the right leg. The URUAVU team then transported the two patients to an airport in the city of Goma, where a local medical team took over treatment.

The URUAVU team conducted two other recent MEDEVACs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). On February 7th, the URUAVU team departed from the Beni Airport to Rwindi, where it evacuated three men who were suffering from various ailments to the airport in Goma, and on January 24th, the URUAVU peacekeepers transported a Military observer who was possibly suffering from malaria for treatment.

Continuing Uruguayan presence

In the past five years, the URAVU helicopters have flown 5,000 hours in which they transported nearly 14,000 passengers and 200 tons of cargo. The helicopters have carried out 126 MEDVAC operations, allowing 160 patients to be transferred from remote locations to health centers.

The URUAVU team is well-equipped to carry out its missions on behalf of the MONUSCO. The detachment has two Bell 212 Twin Huey helicopters – one stationed in the province of North Kivu and another at a Military base in the province of South Kivu. The URUAVU deploys the helicopters to conduct MEDEVACs, search-and-rescue missions, reconnaissance, and for flights to observe the transport of authorities and cargo.

“There are other air units from other countries in the area, however the URUAVU is the [region’s] only air unit that has the capability of operating with night-vision goggles,” FAU Colonel Guillermo Gurbindo told Diálogo.
“This element allows for observation and emergency missions at night in areas where visibility is virtually nil, including in unfavorable geographical areas and mountain regions and in weather conditions that can often be adverse. On several occasions, the presence and capabilities of the URUAVU contingent meant the difference between life or death for people requiring immediate medical assistance, so the effectiveness of these operations is essential for us and for the people.”

The URUAVU contingent, comprised of 52 FAU service members, has been participating in the MONUSCO in the DRC since 2010. The Uruguayan Army has participated in the MONUSCO for more than 15 years, almost since the mission began, and for “enough time to cover virtually all of the territory of the DRC, where a variety of tasks have been effectively carried out,” Col. Gurbindo stated.

Uruguay, which recently was elected to occupy a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, has actively contributed to peacekeeping missions by deploying Troops and equipment. The South American nation also participates in various debates and multilateral initiatives related to this important matter for the international community.