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Officer Norway’s Corner – Remembering a mission to Somalia

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

The same year I came home from my tour to the now former Yugoslavia, another mission popped up in late fall of 1992.

In 1991 the Somali President Siad Barre and his administration had been ousted by a coalition of clan-based opposition groups, backed by Ethiopia’s then-ruling party. To make a long story short, Somalia rather quickly became a country ravaged by civil war, which in turn led to vast amounts of refugees and outright starvation for many people. The UN reacted, and through a resolution passed in early December 1992, the establishment of the United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM) was created.

Norway decided to send a platoon mostly staffed with support personnel to serve at the UNOSOM HQ in Mogadishu. I was assigned to a rifle squad tasked with security and escort duties for the HQ. After our initial training in Norway, we flew down to Somalia in a chartered Russian Ilyushin airplane, which was a former Soviet-era heavy transport plane with a cool looking “bombers lookout” up front.

Because of some scheduling arrival issues with the now US-controlled airport in Mogadishu, we had to land in Larnaca, Cyprus, where we as best as we could celebrated Christmas with the Russian flight-crew.

A few days after Christmas we finally received the go-ahead for our final flight directly down to Mogadishu. We landed and taxied to the UN side of the airport, and when the doors opened, the humid 100-plus degrees of air hit us like a “sledgehammer.” At that time, the Norwegian Army did not have any proper hot climate uniforms. We were all issued the same, poorly made uniforms called “Indian Bush,” we had been using in Lebanon. They held up for a while, but because of the constant humidity, the fabric took a beating. We later ended up getting new U.S. made woodland uniforms, which was a considerable improvement.

This mission to Somalia was in many ways a “first off” for the Norwegian Army, especially in terms of logistics and equipment. We had, for instance, tents with us that we lived in for the first few months that were made for the Norwegian climate, and not so much for what Somalia had to offer. We did not have any form for airconditioning, so the adjustment for us was brutal, but as the saying goes: “You Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”

We also had a full field kitchen with us staffed with several veteran cooks. I mentioned the heat, and these guys were working from early in the morning to late at night in a kitchen tent with several gas-burning stoves, again without any air conditioning and where the temperature easily would reach 120 degrees. Still, they managed to serve hot meals every day, bake bread and pastries for the whole platoon from day one.

Until next time, and part 2 of my time in Somalia, be safe, be happy, and enjoy the summer heat and the glory of air conditioning.