Pride and honour: Korean peacekeepers earn coveted, multi-coloured UN medals

9 Oct 2018

Pride and honour: Korean peacekeepers earn coveted, multi-coloured UN medals

Beatrice Mategwa

It’s 10.00 a.m. in South Sudan’s remote town of Bor, and last-minute preparations are underway before the start of a medal parade ceremony for close to eight dozen peacekeepers from the Republic of Korea. They have been in the country for eight months, working mostly as engineers.

Punctuality is second to nature for these Koreans, and their meticulous strand will not allow any flaws. A red carpet is being swept clean and those invited are walking in to find their seats.

The venue looks colourful, with different miniature flags strung above a field where the ceremony will take place. The atmosphere is upbeat, as a selection of instrumental music continues to play, including the popular 2002 FIFA World Cup official Anthem.

With the mood set, and the event about to start despite the uncomfortably hot and humid climate, it is possible that a check-list is being ticked off.

For the parading peacekeepers, this is a day to “celebrate” themselves.

Soon, the pinning of medals – on the left breast pocket of each peacekeeper – takes center-stage. The decoration is an actual bronze medal with the United Nations crest suspended on a blue, black, white, and green ribbon. The colors represent the United Nations; the oil-rich state of South Sudan; the fertile land; and hope for peace and prosperity in the country, respectively.

“Wear this medal not only as an award for your service in UNMISS, but also, this medal is a souvenir to remind you all [of] those days of friendship that you made … shoulder to shoulder,” says the UNMISS Deputy Force Commander, Mongolian Major General Bayarsaikhan Dashdondog, while addressing medal recipients.

Speaking through a translator, Major Nam Kiyeup, a road-works team leader, who received a medal said he was “overwhelmed” while receiving his medal, because sometimes he went through “challenges and hardships”. “There have been some happy moments, and all these came together at the same time,” said the translator.   

With the medals having been awarded, the entertainment in store did not disappoint. Cultural dances and taekwondo demonstrations took center-stage, oftentimes leaving guests on edge.

For this 9th contingent of peacekeepers from the Horizontal Military Engineering Company, and others before them, ‘Hope to South Sudan, and Peace to the World’, has been their mantra.

Since their deployment to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, in 2013, close to 2,600 have been proactively “sweating, pouring passion for the reconstruction and peace settlement of South Sudan,” says Commander Colonel Park Suman.

Together with support staff, they have been maintaining broken roads in remote areas of Bor. Their massive machinery has come in handy, flattening roads with fresh murram soil dug up from far away quarries and transported to locations in need of mending.

The peacekeepers have also repaired Bor’s air-terminal and recently helped communities affected by floods.

They also engaged directly with the population, providing medical support, veterinary treatment and have given life-skills training to youth in the community at a hands-on vocational training center, teaching bakery, carpentry, electrical engineering, welding, and building construction skills.

“Let us make sure our efforts continue and I ask you to fulfil all of your roles and expertise in the field until our support bears the fruits of hope to South Sudanese people. That is our goal and the reason we are here,” said their Commander, Colonel Park Suman.

“In this country, we came not to fight, instead to help the people of South Sudan to establish long-lasting peace.  We are achieving this task through understanding feelings of [the] local people’s suffering and sharing their burdens,” said the Deputy Force Commander, Major General Bayarsaikhan Dashdondog. “Their challenges [are] our challenges as well,” he added.

Those that received medals will return home at the end of November, to pave way for a fresh batch of peacekeepers.

And as the rotations continue, their experience continues to be adequate motivation to yearn to serve in South Sudan.

68 years ago, South Korea was at war and it received help from the international community, including the United Nations, prompting the first-ever United Nations medal – named the United Nations Service Medal Korea.