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The burden of the desert of the sea
I DON’T know if I am
the most isolated
British serviceman
We’ll get the obvious out
at the moment, but I
of the way fi
rst. Who’s
am the most isolated
the only skier you’ll
fi nd
sailor – according to
in the deser
t? Why, Cdr
PJHQ in Northwood – on
Martyn Sk
eer, of course
(Groan – Ed
). The naval
I am currently serving with
offi cer (pictured, right
EUFOR as operations offi cer – he’s the one without
and sole UK member of the main
the big gun
) is the sole
force headquarters at Abéché
British sailor
, nay, the
in eastern Chad (check it on
Google Earth!) on the border
sole British militar
with the Darfur region of Sudan.
fi gure, coping with tribal
Our area of operations is well warfare, a refugee crisis,
over half the size of France and I
the spread of the Sahara,
am responsible for all operations
for the force which comprises
with a European U
around 3,400 troops from 19 EU
peacekeeping f
orce in
member states, plus an Albanian eastern Chad. This is
company, and we have recently
his account of a uniq
been joined by a Russian
helicopter detachment too, so
this really is multi-national.
We have a United Nations
mandate to provide a safe and
secure environment for refugees
non-governmental organisations venom in the medical centre as off. For a moment I thought we
from Darfur and for the local
to be able to operate with a high there are some pretty horrible were being attacked.
population. I have been out
degree of safety. snakes, scorpions and spiders So not a typical posting for a
on patrol with the three multi-
As well as the security around here (including a green sailor where the nearest coast
national battalions here (Polish/
issues above, there are rebels mamba – seen last weekend) is the best part of a thousand
Croatian, French/Slovenian and
on both sides of the border, and we really have had people miles away and I’ve had all
Irish/Dutch) and it has been an
desertifi cation of the north fi nd scorpions in their boots like the jokes about this being the
amazing experience which I
of the region as the Sahara the fi lms. biggest beach in the world
have to say is unlike anything
extends southwards and you Being the only Brit hasn’t (except the tide never comes
that I’ve done before.
get some idea of the conditions been a problem at all and I in) and ships of the desert
There are many local security experienced by many thousands have been particularly lucky (there are loads of camels
issues including tribal inter- of people in this region which to have been ‘adopted’ by the around here). Actually there
ethnic fi ghting, nomadic herders borders Darfur and is suffering excellent Irish contingent in is a camel market in Abéché
and sedentary farmers, large from some of the same issues. the headquarters. That said, and the sight of a huge camel
amounts of banditry, and rebel In fact, we are trying in some communications with home are train can only be described as
incursions among others. respects to prevent the limited and intermittent and the ‘biblical’.
This mix of overlapping and ‘Darfurisation’ of eastern Chad. post has to go to France fi rst to Funnily enough I haven’t
interwoven issues has made our Indeed, the environment enter their BFPO equivalent, so I found the land environment
job a diffi cult one and I have been here is extremely harsh with didn’t do so well with Christmas diffi cult to adapt to and put
to villages that were completely temperatures in the 40s (it cards last year. that down to the cumulative
burned-out and only women gets even hotter inside the Entertainment is extremely effect of all the joint-focused
could be seen. These attacks tent sometimes) and a clear limited; this is the only place training and naval ‘fl exibility’.
were timed to coincide with the break between a rainy season that I’ve been where you have to In fact, I spent the 25th
once a year harvest grain being – extremely hot with very high go to the local restaurant armed anniversary of my entry into
stored in the grain huts and that humidity and monumental and in uniform. BRNC climbing up a local
was all burned too. downpours, and a dry season We did, however, have an mountain which is the best part
This is just one example of the – extremely hot with very impromptu ‘fi reworks night’ of 1,000 miles from the sea, a
problems facing the people in low humidity and some big (actually it was at 7.30am) just bit surreal when I realised the
this area. sandstorms. before Christmas when a fi re date.
There are around half a million Facilities are very limited: I started in a tent close to mine. Overall, it has been a huge
people in refugee and ‘internally had to carry six months worth Seven went up in fl ames and but rewarding challenge.
displaced person’ camps and of stuff in on my back (including unfortunately there was a large My career manager didn’t
we have to try to maintain a soap and shampoo). amount of ammunition in them disappoint when I asked to
secure environment to enable
Thankfully, there is some anti- (not mine!) which started going “do something different”.
● (Main image) A sandstorm threatens to
engulf the base at Abéché and (above, top
to bottom) a colourful if very rudimentary
refugee camp; Cdr Skeer holds the
base’s ‘pet’ chameleon; and the
heads with probably the best
view in Africa
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