Military members support international delegates at UN Conference

A/SLt Melinda Song poses with the Head of Delegation for Bhutan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Damcho Dorji, at the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in Vancouver, Nov 15.

A/SLt Melinda Song poses with the Head of Delegation for Bhutan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Damcho Dorji, at the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in Vancouver, Nov 15.

Katelyn Moores, MARPAC PA Office ~

When more than 550 international delegates arrived in Vancouver for the United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial earlier this month, they were greeted at the airport by Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members from across the country.

Tasked as Liaison Officers, these CAF members provided one-on-one support to their assigned delegations, showcasing Canadian hospitality and helping to facilitate the successful execution of this high-profile international conference.

Since August, a small team from Joint Task Force Pacific, led by Commander Blair Saltel, has been working in support of the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial, creating a detailed Liaison Officer program that included two-days of training, a transportation plan to and from the airport for delegates, and the development of a Joint Communications Operations Centre that provided 24-hour support to the Liaison Officers and their delegations.

It required significant planning and effort, he says, but this behind-the-scenes support proved to be an essential part of making sure the conference ran smoothly.

Meet A/SLt Song
One of the Liaison Officers was Acting Sub-Lieutenant Melinda Song, a Naval Warfare Officer with Naval Fleet School Pacific. A/SLt Song had volunteered for similar roles in the past, acting as a personal translator for Rear-Admiral Art McDonald during the Chinese Navy visit to Victoria last year, and assisting with the Pacific Command Chiefs of Defence Conference this fall. When she learned of the opportunity to assist with the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial, she jumped at the chance to once again be a Liaison Officer.

“I consider it to be a great honour and privilege to have the opportunity to represent Canada, and showcase to other nations the professionalism and hospitality of the Canadian Armed Forces,” said A/SLt Song.

How it worked
After arriving in Vancouver, the Liaison Officers were assigned to their delegations and provided detailed information on their role and what to expect during the conference, as well as briefs from a Maritime Forces Pacific Gender Focal Point and the RCMP. They were also assigned temporary cell phones that would allow them to easily contact the Joint Communications Operations Centre through an instant messaging platform, facilitating the simultaneous transfer of information between the operators and the Liaison Officers.

“I was very impressed with the JCOC [Joint Communications Operations Centre],” said A/SLt Song. “Imagine you are hosting a big multi-day party, with more than 80 diverse families invited to attend. You, as the host, are to be attentive and cater to the various requests of all these different people. The Joint Communications Operations Centre did an excellent job of managing everything that was expected, as well as everything that was simply unexpected.”

The assignment
A/SLt Song was assigned to the delegation from Bhutan, a relatively small country in the Himalayas bordered by China and India. Bhutan is known for its commitment to environmental conservation, with 60 per cent of its land under protection by law, and for measuring their success by Gross National Happiness instead of Gross Domestic Product.

During her time with the delegation, SLt Song’s role was to communicate their needs, helping to alleviate any minor concerns so that the delegation could concentrate on the important issues at hand.

“I envision myself to be the Staples ‘That was Easy’ button for the Bhutan delegation, from the moment they arrived at the airport, to the moment they departed,” she explained.

For many of the Liaison Officers their job was no easy task, as many delegations had ambitious schedules for their short time in Vancouver. Liaison Officers had to think quickly on their feet, often making last-minute adjustments due to unexpected delays, meeting requests and schedule changes.

Although it was stressful at times, A/SLt Song tried her best to anticipate the needs of the delegation in advance, even finding time to act as their tour guide upon discovering that it was her delegation’s first time in Canada.

“The best part for me personally, as a Liaison Officer, I was able to play a big part in their West Coast experience. Whenever time allowed, I would put on my tour guide hat and tell them interesting facts about Canada, pointing out Stanley Park, Lions Gate Bridge, and North Vancouver. We went on the Sea Bus, took the Sky Train and went on a tour of HMCS Winnipeg. They even tried raw oysters because of me.”

The end result
In total, more than 150 CAF members, along with the crew of Winnipeg, were in Vancouver to support the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial. The conference concluded with a number of achievements including 48 new peacekeeping pledges, 13 reaffirmed and advanced past pledges, and the endorsement of the Vancouver Principles on the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers in peacekeeping operations by 54 countries.

Although it wasn’t always easy, A/SLt Song said she’s glad she volunteered. Her time as a Liaison Officer allowed her to foster a mutual friendship with her delegation, and a better understanding of the culture and values of the people of Bhutan. She also developed friendships with many of the other Liaison Officers over the week they spent together – something she will cherish forever.

“This experience will definitely be one of the highlights of my career,” said SLt Song. “If anyone is offered a similar opportunity, I highly recommend they seize it.”

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