British soldiers receive medals of honour for commitment and service to the people of South Sudan
Growing up, Lieutenant Nick Lytollis dreamed of becoming a world class vet. Unbeknownst to the animal kingdom, it missed out on his services. It just was not to be.
“I soon realized that I wasn’t clever enough to be a vet,” the British peacekeeper muses.
As someone caring for the wellbeing of animals, medals would most likely have been very few and far between. On Tuesday, however, Nick and about 140 of his colleagues engineering contingent serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan were the proud recipients of such pieces of engraved metal.
The engineers have been working in Malakal since January, and were awarded in recognition of their commitment and service to the people of the conflict-afflicted country. In three weeks’ time, their time as UN peacekeepers is up.
For many of them, Lt Lytollis included, South Sudan is their first deployment.
“The medal gives you a little bit of pride. It reminds you of the six months you did on tour, away from family. Getting your first one is quite a memorable experience especially when you look at the older generation who’ve got large collections of them on their chests.”
In Malakal, he leads a team of soldiers who guard the UNMISS base - a task which represents a huge change from his normal, mostly office-bound duties back in the UK.
“It was quite exciting when I was told I was being deployed to South Sudan. We’ve traditionally deployed to the Middle East. Deploying to Africa was not something many of my peers have done and it was something different that I looked forward to,” says Lt Lytollis.
He was recently charged with leading a team that rehabilitated the Malakal sports stadium, providing much-needed enhancements to the basketball, netball and football pitches as well as the running track.
“That was the standout event of my tour, it’s the time when I feel like I made a difference to the local people. Sport is something that’s particularly close to my heart, so improving a sports facility is something that I take a lot of pride in.”
Because of their efforts, the stadium has become a hub of activity for the community living here.
At the medal parade ceremony, the regional military Commander, Brigadier General Albert Dawohoso, heaped praise on the British troops. Amongst other things, he highlighted their active engagement in training on key issues such as sexual exploitation and abuse.
“Since the UK first deployed its contingent 18 months ago, you have become a key part of the UNMISS team and its achievements,” the Brigadier General said.
Their accomplishments include the construction of two all-weather helicopter landing sites and an operating base in Kodok, thus enabling the Mission to have a permanent presence on the west bank of the Nile.
Making some sort of positive difference is what serving as a UN peacekeeper is all about, Lieutenant Nick Lytollis reckons.
“Hopefully we are leaving the country in a slightly better place than when we arrived. I think that’s got to be the aim of anyone who is coming to support a UN mission. It’s the little small gains that we can make to make the lives of people a bit better – like the Malakal stadium.”