Welcome to the United Nations

A historic arrival for Vietnam and the United Nations

A flurry of activity at South Sudan’s Juba International Airport, as UNMISS personnel and airport staff await the arrival of the first ever Vietnamese medical team to deploy in the history of peacekeeping.

Contact is yet to be made between the control tower and the plane, to ascertain an actual landing time, and ground staff braving the scorching sun, eagerly search the skies hoping to catch the first glimpse of an anticipated cargo plane carrying military medical personnel from Vietnam.

A flight marshal on the ground is waiting to guide the aircraft; a fire-engine is on standby; those waiting, keep glancing at their watches, and some vehicles continue to crisscross the tarmac.

“There it is”, says Mads Egholm, a desk officer charged with the Vietnamese deployment, working in the Movement Control section at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), as he points out to a plane he has sighted. “We started planning for this rotation since April. We did a lot of work on this over an extended period of time,” he added.

In a few moments, slightly before 1430 local time, the C-17 – a massive cargo military plane - touches down with a soft thud, and then slowly and carefully taxis across the runway.  It comes to a halt at the edge of the airport tarmac. It’s a Royal Australian Airforce plane, with visible inscriptions of this and the country flag.

The roaring engines finally come to a stop, and the door to the plane is opened.

Fully clad in their camouflage military uniform, 30 medical personnel step out of the craft. Other ground staff are offloading their medical and logistics equipment.

The new boots on the ground, are wearing their blue helmets with vests draped over their chests, labeled ‘UN’.

Soon after they are greeted by UNMISS personnel, they make a formation of two rows under the instructions of their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bui Duc Thanh, an Intensive Care Unit doctor, who has been working in the medical field for 15 years.

The two at the front are holding their country flag – a red flag with a golden star, and the blue United Nations flag, with its white world-map emblem.

“Vietnam is a very friendly country to everyone all over the world and Vietnam also wants to contribute all its ability to the peacekeeping operations of the world,” says the Commanding Officer.

Among the personnel who arrived are five doctors, a number of nurses and support staff. The rest of the 63-strong medical contingent will arrive in two weeks’ time. They will replace troops from the United Kingdom who pioneered the Level 2 Hospital in South Sudan’s northern town of Bentiu, where they provided medical support to UN personnel under difficult and demanding conditions.

The Vietnamese contingent will provide second line health care, emergency resuscitation and stabilization, limb and lifesaving surgical intervention, basic dental care and casualty evacuation to the next level of medical care.

The Bentiu Level II hospital also covers the largest Protection of Civilians site in South Sudan which provides sanctuary to nearly 115, 000 people.

“We want to help South Sudanese people to be good in their health,” says 38-year-old Ho Ngol Phat, an anesthesiologist, who has been working as a doctor for 13 years.

“All the families of all the staff - they are very proud of us, because this is the first time we go overseas for peacekeeping. I think I am very, very happy,” says the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Thanh.

As the 30-odd troops march in formation across the tarmac to the immigration area, they are all smiles, with eyes darting from left to right, oblivious to the business as usual airport, where UN flights are taking off, commercial flights landing or humanitarian deliveries ongoing.

Passports in hand, they are met by immigration and security officials.

Part of the arrival process included going through an Ebola screening process, where each member of the team files past a health official who records their temperature with a handheld thermometer.

“We are soldiers. Right now, we feel very honored and proud, that we can be here, and we are also very excited for our next one-year duty to fulfill the Mission and support humanitarian assistance,” says Lieutenant Samina Ngol, one of the support staff.

“This is not just an honor for us, but it is also an honor for Vietnamese people to join a peacekeeping mission. We received a lot of support from the government, from the army and from the Vietnamese people,” says Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Thanh, whose name is translated as “successful”.