Troops 'train for the worst, hope for the best' as 130 bound for Syria
Up to 130 Irish troops are being put through their paces before being deployed to Syria in the coming weeks.
The members of the Defence Forces faced simulated ambushes, gunfire and even a bomb disposal team deploying robots to deal with a simulated explosive device, when they took part in the mission readiness exercises in the Glen of Imaal, Co Wicklow, yesterday.
Gunner Charlene Bailey is one of five female soldiers preparing to fly out to the Golan Heights, where Irish peacekeepers have sometimes faced gunfire when supporting UN partners.
However, the 27-year-old, from upper Glanmire in Cork, faces a tougher task when deployed - leaving her 22-month-old daughter and partner behind for the first time.
"I'll miss them terribly, but the communication out there is brilliant with skype," she said.
Gnr Bailey has been in the Defence Forces for nine years and previously served in Chad on a UN peacekeeping mission.
"We all know the dangers out in Syria, so the training has been a lot more robust," she said, adding that she has "full confidence" in both the training she received and the personnel she will be serving abroad with.
The UN has been dispatching troops to the Golan Heights since 1974, but Irish forces have only been deployed with UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force) mission since September 2013.
The area borders Lebanon Jordan and Israel.
The group will provide armed, rapid-response forces to help UN troops and personnel, as well as impose itself on adversarial forces, if necessary.
This time - on Ireland's fifth rotation - the peacekeepers will join UN troops from Fiji, India, Netherlands and Nepal.
Commandant Denis Hanly will be Deputy Commanding Officer for the 50th Infantry Group.
"I've been deployed in Lebanon, Kosovo and Afghanistan before," said Comdt Hanly, who has served with both NATO and the UN.
"You train for the worst and hope for the best. It's been robust and tough and now we're in our assessment phase - examining core soldiering skills," he said.
He said the 130 troops have a wealth of experience, boasting 324 foreign tours between them despite having an average age of 27.
They have already trained in both Lynch Camp in Cork and The Curragh in Kildare for several weeks prior to their arrival in Wicklow.
Their training at the Glen of Imaal is the final part of their seven-week training before being deployed.
However, Gnr Bailey said fewer women seem to be joining the Defence Forces.
"I suppose times have changed and it's harder to get into the army now," she said. "When I was a recruit there were seven of us [females] but only two of us passed - the training is tough."