Sinai Spotlight – MFO Flight Followers Corporal Joshua Berkelmans and Sergeant Wayne Farrell
By Captain Nicola LaMarre – Operation CALUMET Public Affairs Officer
Whether it’s the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) UH-60 helicopter observer missions, the movement of troops and essential supplies in a Czech Air Force CASA C-295 aircraft around the Sinai Peninsula, or an emergency medical evacuation to a hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel, there is always a Canadian Armed Forces Flight Follower tracking it to make sure it takes off, conducts its mission, and lands at its destination safely.
The all-Canadian team of Flight Followers are based at Forward Operating Base North near El Gorah, Egypt. They coordinate with both Egyptian and Israeli Air Traffic Control Units, as well as international MFO aircrew contingents. Each day, they’re tracking every flight and monitoring the weather conditions across the area of responsibility, and providing ground control for aircraft landing and departing.
“The first month here really highlighted the importance of our contribution to me. We had times when vehicles would cross the runway and break down on it or Egyptian battle positions would begin firing just prior to an aircraft landing or departing El Gorah. Our ability to see potential dangers and have direct communications with all assets contributes to the avoidance of flight incidents and accidents,” said Corporal Joshua Berkelmans.
“The tempo is a lot different here than at home. We are confined to camp and we hear small arms artillery fire every day and night outside the camp from the Egyptians protecting us against insurgents, but inside the camp is very safe and its almost like working in a control tower at home. The only difference is that we are ready for any situation and we all have our military fighting gear with us ready to defend ourselves,” explained Sergeant Wayne Farrell.
Being away from family and friends for a year can be difficult. To take your mind off of missing home, developing a routine to stay healthy and forging new friendships to stay strong mentally is essential to a good deployment.
Sergeant Farrell, who is on his second year-long deployment on Op CALUMET, said, “A good routine is definitely important. Keeping good physical fitness and a healthy diet is key. On every Wednesday night we have a friendly ball hockey game with other nations.”
Not normally a “gym rat”, Corporal Berkelmans now goes every day (usually twice) to keep busy and to keep from missing his little ones.
“I try to video message them on weekends, depending on the connection, but it’s a challenge to keep the two little monsters in one place for any length of time.”
For both men, the support of family and friends at home coupled with the pride of being part of an all-Canadian Air Operations team supporting MFO’s peace support mission make their time here something they’ll always remember.
Operation CALUMET is Canada’s contribution to the MFO. Canada has provided a contingent since September 1, 1985; the air operations team joined in 1986. Canada has been actively involved in maintaining peace in the region for more than 50 years, is a strong supporter of the Middle East Peace Process, and is a contributor to peacekeeping operations in the region.
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