HMCS Vancouver command team shares United Nations connection

From the left: Chief Petty Officer First Class Steve Wist, Commander Jonathan Kouwenberg, and Lieutenant-Commander Collin Forsberg wear their United Nations blue beret in recognition of International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers and their own service in Operation Safari. Photo by Leading Seaman Sisi Xu, MARPAC Imaging Services

From the left: Chief Petty Officer First Class Steve Wist, Commander Jonathan Kouwenberg, and Lieutenant-Commander Collin Forsberg wear their United Nations blue beret in recognition of International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers and their own service in Operation Safari. Photo by Leading Seaman Sisi Xu, MARPAC Imaging Services

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

The three members of HMCS Vancouver’s command team share a unique commonality.

They all served on Operation Safari, the Canadian Armed Forces’ contribution to the former United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) during the mid 2000s.

Commander Jonathan Kouwenberg was there in 2005; his Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Collin Forsberg served from 2009 to 2010, and Coxswain, Chief Petty Officer First Class Steve Wist was in Sudan in 2008.

“This isn’t by design, this is completely accidental,” said Cdr Kouwenberg. “I think we are probably a unique command team within the navy – all three of us having served on this mission in the middle of Africa.”

All three joined Vancouver in 2018, and their connection was discovered when Cdr Kouwenberg perused their biographies.

He and LCdr Forsberg worked as military observers while CPO1 Wist was stationed at the UN’s supply depot and logistical centre in El-Obeid.

Their respective experience in Sudan differed based on the year and the location of their mission. For Cdr Kouwenberg, it was at the start of Operation Safari and UN observers were unarmed. He worked and lived in a remote village along with eight other UN military observers. He and three other members of the team – a Russian, an Ecuadorian and a Mexican officer – would regularly conduct long-range patrols in remote regions where armed clashes between rival tribes and gangs would often occur.

“We patrolled arid areas of the countryside that was essentially in the middle of nowhere, with no support and very little in the way of medical or armed assistance. We would routinely be driving down roads that had not been cleared of mines and took substantial personal risk in order to get out there and do what the UN needed us to do.”

LCdr Forsberg’s experience differed greatly. He arrived towards the end of the United Nations mission in Sudan, when much of the armed conflict had begun to subside and a degree of peace had been restored. By his time UN troops were armed.

He monitored joint integrated security units with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and the Sudanese Armed Forces, who served along side each other. He too worked with a diverse UN team to accomplish their mission.

“It was a fantastic deployment and something I would like to do again,” said LCdr Forsberg. “Getting to know and work with people from Sudan and other countries of the United Nations, all with such varying backgrounds and experiences, was truly incredible.”

All three men agreed that taking part in the mission was the “experience of a lifetime” and one they will always cherish.

Last Thursday was especially poignant for them, as May 29 was International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. They took a respective moment to reflect on the day that pays tribute to them, and to all the men and women who served and continue to serve in United Nations peacekeeping operations. The day honoured their professionalism, dedication, and courage, and the memory of those who died in the cause of peace.

The Canadian Armed Forces currently have 10 personnel deployed through the Canadian Joint Operations Centre on Operation Soprano, Canada’s contribution to the United Nation’s Mission in South Sudan.

Filed Under: Top Stories

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