'Invaluable experience' in South Sudan

Published on Ms Claudia Harrison (author), Daid Carter (photographer)

Under Operation ASLAN, Lieutenant Commander Mark Wilson, a 30-year veteran of the Navy based at HMAS Kuttabul, was one of a number of military officers sent to assist the United Nations Mission (UNMISS) in South Sudan. Here, he was the officer-in-charge of the Sailors’ Leadership and Management Facility. He had volunteered for the operation to experience something out of the ordinary.  (photo: Daid Carter)
Under Operation ASLAN, Lieutenant Commander Mark Wilson, a 30-year veteran of the Navy based at HMAS Kuttabul, was one of a number of military officers sent to assist the United Nations Mission (UNMISS) in South Sudan. Here, he was the officer-in-charge of the Sailors’ Leadership and Management Facility. He had volunteered for the operation to experience something out of the ordinary.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Wilson, a 30-year veteran of the Navy, was one of a number of military officers sent to assist the United Nations Mission (UNMISS) in South Sudan, under Operation ASLAN.

He has now also received a Conspicuous Service Medal for his role as Military Liaison Officer on that operation, serving at the United Nations State Support Base in Bor, in Jonglei State, during the national security crisis in mid-December 2013.

In Australia, he was the officer-in-charge of the Sailors’ Leadership and Management Facility and volunteered for the operation to experience something out of the ordinary. 

“And I got that in spades,” he said, speaking of his time in South Sudan.

Lieutenant Commander Wilson has been duly noted for his display of professionalism and dedication to duty in the management of hundreds of casualties, and for saving many lives.  This was following the evacuation of United Nations civilian staff from the support base, amid heavy fighting in and around Bor town. 

“Before the hostilities I was coordinating training to the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, the government’s legitimate army. This was part of the UNMISS mandate and my training background made me ideal for the task.

“But, on 17 December my role changed. After heavy fighting for days major parts of the town were destroyed and many people were killed. All UN civilian personnel were evacuated, including the UN police. This left many jobs that needed to be redistributed, and I was retasked to medical coordination and 'remains'management.

“We had large numbers of wounded combatants and civilians arriving for treatment. The town’s medical capacity was 23 beds, with about eight doctors. I had a mediating and regulating role in determining which injured went where,” Lieutenant Commander Wilson said.

Lieutenant Commander Wilson’s compassion and generosity of spirit in managing the burial of those who were killed during the fighting earned the respect of the United Nations commanders and leaders within the Bor town community. And it earned him his Queen’s Birthday Honour. 

“It was such an emotional experience. I had to pick up the dead in a ute I had purloined and christened the 'duty hearse'. I cried twice during the conflict, the first time when I buried my first dead, a man in his 30s and a child around 12. They’d both drowned in a waterhole. The second time still makes me well up... It’s hard to talk about this, even now,” he said.

“I regard this period in my career as a unique and invaluable experience. I learned much about myself. I have never been as challenged in my 30 years in service and I have never felt as necessary. I believe it will shape my perceptions both professionally and personally well into the future”.