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Mongolian female peacekeeper shares her experience in South Sudan and West Sahara

Trans. by B.DULGUUN

Lieutenant Colonel T.Munkh-Orgil is tearing down walls and prejudices for women in the military sector. She went to Western Sahara as a military observer in 2008, to South Sudan as a food supply officer in 2012, and went to South Sudan again as a fuel officer in 2015. After returning in 2015, she was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, at the age of 30.
In the following interview Lieutenant Colonel T.Munkh-Orgil spoke about her experience with peacekeeping operations.

It hasn’t been long since you returned from a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and yet you’ve been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Earning this promotion must have been hard, right?

At global level, most countries try to moderate the number of female military officers and soldiers due to the sector’s specialty. Actually, I don’t think there has been an army with women exceeding more than 20 percent of the total force. Around 14 to 15 percent of the Mongolian military personnel are women. Most of them work in medical, communication and other units that provide support from behind the front line. I’m sure that many more women would succeed in this field if more women are recruited.
If you swore an oath, you should work hard just as any male soldier. Regardless of your gender, you have no choice but to overcome any difficulty or obstacle. The enemy will not see you as a woman and you will be shot as an enemy by them.
Women are seen as weak and fragile, but everything has changed now. Fitness and health clubs are filled with women. Female athletes are successful at every sport, including sumo, boxing and freestyle wrestling. Male solidarity and patriarchy has prevailed for a long time and people think that women should only stay at home. Due to this, some people don’t allow women to become a lieutenant and think that women don’t need high ranks. Women will never fall behind men in the military sector if their skills are valued and given appropriate position. Mongolians need to start thinking outside the box. The USA has changed its military policy. Now, women can join the Special Forces in the USA.

How did you feel when you were promoted?

Military personnel feel proud by looking at their shoulder and chest. Fancy outfits and brand-name bags mean nothing to us. We feel special wearing our military uniform and medals because they show our achievements. At present, people who participated in the nine peacekeeping missions that Mongolia joined are wearing medals all over their chest. These medals weren’t just given to them. They were given to encourage those who fought bravely. I believe that this title is a reward for my contribution in peacekeeping missions and development of the Mongolia Armed Forces. While receiving an award, people should think about what they did to earn it. It would be shameful if they have done nothing for it. I wouldn’t be happy to be promoted to lieutenant without working for it.
Four years ago, when my father retired, he told me to shine until I’ve reached this position. The will to reach this position has been engraved deeply in my mind. But now, I’ve made it. My parents’ wish has come true.

Why did you choose to join the military?

My father worked in the army. Following my father, my mother has lived a military life all these years. I’m the oldest of three daughters. So it can be said that I stepped into this sector at a young age. My father always wanted one of his children to join the military. One day, I decided to become a soldier.
I joined the army in 1997. I worked for a year after finishing military school and then, studied at the Defense University of Mongolia for four years. Thanks to great leaders, I was able to improve my language skills and attain amazing opportunities.

You went on three peacekeeping operations. Not all women would have the courage to take part in such a dangerous mission with high criteria. How did you decide to do it?

I went to West Sahara as a military observer for my first peacekeeping mission in 2008. My commander told me to do well and try to increase the number of Mongolian participants for future missions. After the peacekeeping operation, the number of female soldiers and officers accepted increased. Since then, two women were allowed to participate in peacekeeping missions.
A female military officer named Nyamjargal was the first to go on a peacekeeping mission. I was the second female peacekeeper from Mongolia.
I’ll start from the very beginning. I applied to become the head of the financial unit after graduating military school and the Military Institute with excellent grades. However, I was assigned to a settlement area due to the reason that women don’t work at a post for a long time. I was in charge of minor works at the military unit in Erdenet City. I organized military uniforms in large storages. Due to my allergy to dust, I requested for a transfer several times and each time, it was rejected. Then, I decided to travel to South Korea and work there with my sister.
Our commander was at the human resources department when I went to give my resignation. He asked me how much I would earn there, so I replied 500 USD (a month). He got angry and told me to get back to my work. Still, I gave my resignation for the second time. Afterwards, I was told to attend an English language course. I was shocked because female officers couldn’t attend language courses.

Why not?

They were simply not granted with that kind of opportunity. Among few applicants for the language course, three female officers were unintentionally selected because they had masculine names. At the time, high ranking officers were discussing to train the second female peacekeeper. I thought that there was no way I would be sent on a peacekeeping mission after learning English, but my commander told me to take this opportunity and that I would earn 2,000 USD rather than 500 USD.

What happened afterwards?

I finished the six-month English course and was ordered to work as a translator at Khaanii Ereld field training for peacekeeping operations. Afterwards, I was sent to India for a military observer course. Back then, I didn’t think far ahead and only complained that they were sending me to various courses instead of a school.
Next, I received another translator’s job at a training course. Everything seemed like a punishment, maybe because the tasks were beyond my language skills. Then, I passed an English test and was accepted to take part in a peacekeeping mission. I realized then that excellent leaders find potential and talent in people, help them develop and guide them.

What was your first impression during your first peacekeeping mission?

I was quite well prepared because I had asked others about their experience and attended courses beforehand. It was very strange experiencing the glares from Arabian people.

What does a military observer do?

Army movements of the two conflicting sides in West Sahara are monitored. Military observers observe the weapons they use, their field training progress, and hostile actions. All these things are reported to the commander. Sometimes, we go on patrols in vehicles, make rounds to military units, meet with local residents and ask about their lives and concerns. Basically, military observers gather intelligence for administrators.

What have you achieved during your three peacekeeping missions?

I will not highlight anything other than completing the task my commander gave me during the first operation. The Mongolian army force saved approximately 70 billion MNT thanks to my efforts in the military food supply unit. All officers who went with me worked exceptionally. A building was built for military engineers and the communications unit set up a communications station. During the last peacekeeping mission, I was a fuel officer and created fuel supply for the peacekeeping team in South Sudan.

Can you share some things you witnessed during peacekeeping missions?

I was driving over large mortar shells in West Sahara, but an Arabian with two camels was shouting and waving at us. Apparently, we had entered an area with land mines. The Arabian man was trying to tell us to get out of there. Bombs move underground following sand movement in West Sahara. That was my first sudden shock.

Did your whole life flash before your eyes?

I thought it was very nice to go on an operation. I had training on what to do in a situation like that before, so we were able to get out safely. At that moment, I finally felt relieved and felt alive.
During the second peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, I was heartbroken to see a child who had starved until his hands and legs became as thin as a pen. Mongolians throw away moldy bread while people are starving to death there. Even during Tsagaan Sar, I’ve seen meat and pastry thrown into a trash bin. We’re living too extravagantly. A friend of mine had posted on social media that it was Tsagaan Sar again and that it annoys her to gain weight. I replied that 1.5 to two million people die every day across the globe and yet we’re complaining about having food.
I immediately cried when I saw children lying on their mother’s knees. They had become all skin and bone to the extent that they couldn’t play on their own feet. Also, there are child soldiers in Sudan. There are many children holding guns that they can barely hold up. Children are trained for war from an early age. I was very upset to see naked children standing in rows holding guns. I’ve seen horrific scenes after a plane crash, dead bodies and a leg blown away by a bomb. I was recently able to overcome my fears after experiencing and seeing all of that.

What does it mean for you to be a soldier?

It’s probably living for the sake of others and feeling pleasure from others’ happiness.

Source: news.gogo.mn

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=18950

Posted by on Mar 23 2016. Filed under Prime Interview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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