Defence people support South Sudan on Operation ASLAN

Published on CPL Nick Wiseman (author and photographer)

Location(s): Juba, South Sudan

Navy Lieutenant Aaron Goedecke spends time with the children at a local orphanage in Juba, South Sudan. (photo: CPL Nick Wiseman)
Navy Lieutenant Aaron Goedecke spends time with the children at a local orphanage in Juba, South Sudan.

Australians from across the three services are working with the United Nations in South Sudan in key headquarters positions, aviation and logistics support roles, as well as acting as military liaison officers (MLO).

Seventeen of the twenty-one Australians are in key Headquarters staff officer positions in the capital of Juba, while four remain outside of the capital in MLO roles.

Deputy Commander Australian Contingent Lieutenant Colonel Adam Hogan said his team is well suited to the mission.

"Australians tend to have a 'go get ‘em' attitude so we fit in very well and get the job done," he said.

"All the Australian staff are in key positions throughout the mission which is great to see."

South Sudan lacks some basic amenities such as power, running water and sewerage that could be taken for granted back in Australia.

The protection of civilians is a high priority of the UN mission and after the crisis in December last year it has now been ratified as a central tenet in the new mandate.

Lieutenant Colonel Hogan said the mission in South Sudan was unique as it was the first to open the gates to internally displaced persons.

"There are more than 91,000 displaced people in the protection of civilian camps around the country," he said.

"Protection of civilians is now the highest priority of the mission."

With little access to permanent services, outbreaks of disease such as cholera can be common and a lot of work is being done to ensure the camps have adequate drainage and facilities.

Australia House in Juba, South Sudan - The ADF headquarters on Operation Aslan; the deployment of ADF personnel to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

Australia House in Juba, South Sudan - The ADF headquarters on Operation Aslan; the deployment of ADF personnel to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

When not working at the UN mission, the Australians reside in Australia House in the city of Juba, where force protection has been upgraded as a result of the December crisis.

Lieutenant Colonel Hogan said he was impressed with what the Australian Defence Force members before him had done to the residence.

"Australia House has become the accommodation standard for many other country contingents that choose to live off base," he said.

Living in the community also means the contingent often interact with the locals.

"We purchase our food from the local markets and chat with the local kids outside," Lieutenant Colonel Hogan said.

"We also have guards, cleaners and an assistant house manager who are employed at the house."

A stand-out moment for Lieutenant Colonel Hogan was after he discovered that one of the guards had children who lived in the north of the country and were sick with Malaria.

Like most employment in the country, if they don't work they don't get paid and the guard could not afford to take time to visit them.

Lieutenant Colonel Hogan said the contingent immediately threw some money in a hat and presented it to the guard so he could get home to his family.

"The money paid for his bus ticket home as well as medicine for his children," he said.

"The children are now better and his wife still wonders why anyone would do anything like that for those they don't know.

"Do right by others and they will do right by you."

On 9 July 2011, the Republic of South Sudan became the newest country in the world, following a six-year peace process than began with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. The new United Nations Mission in South Sudan was established to support the new Republic of South Sudan to build a viable and secure future for its people. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is helping to establish conditions for nation-building and development in South Sudan.

Operation ASLAN is the deployment of Australian Defence Force personnel to UNMISS. The Operation formally started on 23 September 2011.

Australian Defence Force personnel transitioned to Operation ASLAN from Operation AZURE, Defence's contribution to the former United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and Operation HEDGEROW, the former Australian Defence Force contribution to the African Union - UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur.