In October 2019, Major Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong (promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in May 2020) undertook the task as a military observer at the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). During her stay in the African country, she usually joined land or air short patrols in the country. In addition, she also often negotiated with commanders of both government and opposition troops and armed groups at checkpoints for the delegation operation, as well as met with local authorities and people to learn about the current security, political and humanitarian situations. In particular, as a military observer, she had to evaluate the implementation of the ceasefire agreements among rebels and report to the headquarters.

Major Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong during a patrol in South Sudan

Phuong shared her interesting story about women's advantage over men at work. Particularly, a commander of a checkpoint in Juba did not share sympathy to the UNMISS. However, when he learned that the UNMISS staff was a female officer (as Phuong) and came from Vietnam, he changed his attitude immediately. At a meeting with Phuong, he said that he learnt about Vietnam via information about the Southeast Asian country's resistance wars against the French and U.S. invaders. He hoped that South Sudan would soon enjoy peace like Vietnam.

Thanks to her negotiating skills, Phuong was known as “Queen Vietnam” and “Miss Vietnam” among almost all commanders of armed forces there, as she was the first Vietnamese woman that they had ever met.

Phuong added that a U.N. military observer is required to be a good driver and negotiator, and master the English language and computer skills. During patrols, she also met with women and children to study humanitarian and human rights issues in the area.

During the first long-day patrol to in Lobonok and Kapeto in South Sudan, she saw a 16- or 18-year-old girl who was a mother of twins. Knowing the young mother's hardships, the patrol staff gave her food and informed the higher levels of this situation in the locality.

Major Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong and local children

The most difficult task was probably the patrol of the seconded force in border areas. Therefore, female military observers could refuse to perform this dangerous role. Despite this fact, Phuong never said no and always took and completed all assigned missions.

Phuong recalled the days in December 2019, when she was deployed for a month to a detachment based in Yei state border area. This state is situated 150 kilometers southwest of the capital of Juba, near the South Sudanese border with Uganda and the Republic of Congo. It was considered the most dangerous area in terms of security and humanitarian problems in South Sudan because of the conflicts among the government, opposition forces and local militants. Furthermore, Yei state was then seriously impacted by the Ebola pandemic. Nevertheless, she did perform well her tasks there thanks to her thorough preparations.

Major Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong present gifts to children.

She had to extend her term of office at UNMISS by five more months because of the complicated developments of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite difficulties and challenges, the Vietnamese female peacekeeper excellently accomplished her assigned missions and was honored with noble orders of the U.N. and the mission.

Leaving South Sudan, the extreme of poverty and violence, a difficult and harsh land ravaged by civil war, Lieutenant Colonel Phuong more than ever understands the value of peace and the meaning of the United Nations peacekeeping operations, in which the international community is joining hands, contributing to bringing the best possible things to the country and its people.

Translated by Minh Anh