Warmth from Bentiu

After hours of heli-flight from the capital of Juba, two thirds of the first batch of the personnel of the L2FH No.1 of Vietnam reached Bentiu on a harshly sunny day, which is typical of the land. The rest of the batch and the equipment arrived on the following day.

Chief Nurse of the UK’s L2FH Sonia Vanner showing Senior Colonel Tran Quoc Viet - Deputy Director of Military Hospital 175 - and the Vietnamese delegation around the UK’s L2FH

Like other places in South Sudan, flights to Bentiu, some 900km from Juba, are only conducted by small-sized fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters of the United Nations, carrying personnel or equipment for forces of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) stationed in Bentiu.

The road from the airport to the place where the L2FH No.1 will be stationed is typical of this most fledgling country in the world. In rainy days, the road is full of mud while in sunny days, dust flies all over the place.

Along the road, hard life in this war-torn land shows in the silhouettes of women walking silently with big bundles of wood or sags of food on top of their heads. Children without clothes follow the vehicles of the UN with their tired looks. From afar, herders in their worn-out clothes hold their guns to protect their cattle from robbers.

Bentiu greeted the personnel of the L2FH No.1 of Vietnam in that special fashion. However, what was heard and what was seen about this poverty and war-torn land now turned into a warm feeling as the troops of the L2FH No.1 of Vietnam was heartily welcomed by the UNMISS personnel in Bentiu. The warm welcome cleared away the worry of the troops.

Senior Colonel Tran Quoc Viet, Deputy Director of Military Hospital 175 shared that the UK force under the UNMISS received the Vietnamese troops like long-time-no-see friends. They supported the newcomers wholeheartedly, more than what the Vietnamese had expected. The UK royal engineers helped the Vietnamese medical staff unload equipment while the UK logistic sector helped the newcomers with food during the first two days waiting for essential goods and food from the UN. This support has made the Vietnamese troops moved. The joint meals between the Vietnamese and UK forces helped enhance mutual understanding and friendship and facilitate the coordination and handover of work between the medical troops of the two countries.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Jones, Commanding Officer of the UK military forces in Bentiu, who welcomed the personnel of the L2FH No.1 of Vietnam to the UNMISS to join hands in maintaining peace in the land, affirmed that the handover of the L2FH of the UK to Vietnam has shown the ever-developing relationship between the two countries. He hoped to see more positive changes and successes of the L2FH No.1 of Vietnam in Bentiu.

On behalf of the newcomers’ part, Lieutenant Colonel Bui Duc Thanh, Commanding Officer of the L2FH No.1 of Vietnam, stressed that the wholehearted support of the UK forces brought the Vietnamese troops a lot of motivation and encouragement. The professionalism at work of the UK forces also left a deep impression on the Vietnamese troops, and served as a good lesson for them to learn and follow.

Then, the newcomers were shown around the place where they will live and work for one year and experienced the operation of the L2FH of the UK. All necessary information provided by the UK forces was noted down carefully for later operation of the Vietnamese L2FH No.1. Warmth was what everyone could feel as the Vietnamese and UK forces quickly and closely coordinated at work right after meeting in Bentiu.

Major Ho Ngoc Phat talking with Captain Tom Bolitho, Second-in-Command Officer of the UK Engineer Company in Bentiu

First tasks

On the second day in Bentiu, troops of the L2FH No.1 officially took over the mission of guarding the unit from the UK force. The handover of the first guard shift took place at 8pm of October 4 in a serious manner, and in line with common military regulations. The handover marked the start of the transfer of duties from the UK personnel to their Vietnamese counterparts in Bentiu.

By now, the accommodations for L2FH troops built by the UK engineer troops have been strengthened with sufficient electricity and air-conditioners. The new hospital is under the last phase of construction. Depending on the progress of material support from the UN, it is estimated that in more than a month, the construction of the new hospital will be completed.

All logistic preparation for the operation of the hospital started long before. Therefore, the personnel of the L2FH No.1 of Vietnam have quickly settled down in Bentiu. Life in Bentiu is somewhat different from what the newcomers had imagined previously in Vietnam. Almost all of the staff of the L2FH No.1 are young. They have brought to South Sudan their high sense of responsibility and they are now highly determined to fulfill the noble duties assigned.

The chain-of-command of the L2FH No.1 of Vietnam has also required troops of the whole hospital to work and conduct in a manner which at best promotes the image of the land and people of Vietnam as well as the Vietnam People’s Army.

Though it is hard to have Internet connection or making phone calls in Bentiu, all Vietnamese “messengers of peace” want to send their best wishes and love from Bentiu to the Fatherland.

Reported by My Hanh (from Bentiu, South Sudan)

Translated by Huu Duong