In October 2022, I received a Worldwide Individual Augmentation System (WIAS) tasker assignment while assigned to the Combined Arms Support Command as a training developer. These orders began a one-year assignment with the United Nations (U.N.) in Juba, South Sudan, a landlocked country in East Africa, which gained independence from Sudan and became a U.N. member state in 2011. Since gaining independence, South Sudan has been wracked by conflict and multiple civil wars, and there is currently a fragile peace agreement between the various armed groups. In 2011, the U.N. created the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to establish and maintain the conditions for peace. Recent revisions to the mandate for UNMISS prioritize the protection of civilians, distribution of humanitarian aid, and the development of the newest nation in the world through support of the revitalized agreement and peace process and by addressing violations of humanitarian and human rights law. It was clear this would be an entirely different experience from past military deployments.
Becoming a U.N. Peacekeeper
Opportunities like these are exclusive, with fewer than 40 U.S. military officers serving as U.N. peacekeepers deployed worldwide from the Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force. Many U.S. military members are unaware of these U.N. assignments and the opportunities they provide. I was assigned as a staff officer in the Joint Logistics Operations Center (JLOC) under the UNMISS Mission Support Division. However, basic skills and general knowledge must be learned before focusing on specific job positions as a U.N. peacekeeper. For this purpose, the U.S. Military Observer Group (USMOG) is responsible for training, equipping, deploying, and managing U.S. military members from across the joint force assigned to U.N. positions. The USMOG headquarters is in Washington, D.C., under Army G3/5/7. USMOG pre-deployment training consists of U.N. familiarization and mandatory training, the Evasion and Conduct After Capture course, and the Individual Terrorism Awareness Course. The time in training also provides individuals deploying as a team a chance to build camaraderie. The instruction gives U.S. military peacekeepers a basic organizational understanding of the U.N. and prepares them to operate as small teams in unstable mission areas.
U.N. Mission Organizational Structure
Although dissimilar to an Army theater-level command, the U.N. mission structure still involves strategic, operational, and tactical levels of operations. The strategic level, headquartered in New York City, consists of the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. Secretary-General, the U.N. Secretariat, and the Under-Secretary-General in charge of the Department of Peace Operations (DPO). Linking the strategic and operational levels is the head of mission or Special Representative to the Secretary-General (SRSG), supported by a politically focused special staff. The remaining operational-level components include the Office of the Director of Mission Support (DMS), which is responsive to the SRSG and provides support to the component heads of the U.N. Force headquarters and police. The tactical level of operations comprises a combination of military and police units and political entities with regional offices. The JLOC in the UNMISS mission falls under the office of the DMS and is separate from the military logistics staff section, the U4, of the force headquarters (FHQ). The DMS, FHQ, and Police are the primary operational components of UNMISS.
UNMISS Sustainment Mission
The UNMISS is a multidimensional peacekeeping operation comprising around 14,000 military, 2,000 police, and 2,000 civilian personnel headquartered in South Sudan’s capital of Juba. Twenty field offices (FOs), company operating bases, and temporary operating bases (TOBs) are located throughout the country’s ten states. The states are further organized into FHQ areas of responsibility of five sectors: North, East, West, South, Juba, and Unity. Each sector has a sector headquarters that manages the military and police units within the sector and a main FO in each state that manages the area engineering and logistics. The FO is the main sustainment node for the sector/state, with company operating bases being smaller long-term bases occupied by military, police, and civilian units and TOBs being short-term bases with only military and police units. These bases are positioned to provide support and protection to area internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and protection of civilian sites. The U.N. mission provides multiclass sustainment to all these bases using finite transportation assets.
This concept does not differ much from the Army’s use of forward operating bases as main nodes in an area, with company operating bases as smaller ancillary nodes for operations. Logistically speaking, this is comparable to the Army field trains concept, with the FO acting as the Army logistics support area, the company operating base as the brigade support area, and the TOB as the field, combat, and company trains. The main differences between the U.N. and Army logistics operations are the shared operations management by a military and civilian mission component, fewer available organic logistics capabilities, and an increased portion of sustainment missions conducted by contractors.
U.N. Mission Sustainment Capabilities
U.N. mission sustainment capabilities come from two types of equipment and property: U.N.-owned equipment (UNOE) and contingent-owned equipment (COE). UNOE is simply the equipment, materials, and infrastructure owned by the U.N. mission, and COE is equipment and self-sustainment capabilities deployed as part of the military and police contingent. These military and police contingents are referred to as troop or police contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs). The equipment, capabilities, and self-sustainment with which a TCC/PCC deploys are agreed upon in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the member state, the U.N. Department of Field Support, and the U.N. DPO. A committee can revise these MOUs to support any changes to the mission. Member states that provide a TCC/PCC to a U.N. mission receive monetary reimbursement for the COE they send to the mission. A standard table outlines reimbursement rates, and a series of inspections by the U.N. of the TCC/PCC COE is performed before, during, and upon mission completion to ensure the equipment remains operational and qualifies for reimbursement by the U.N.
Member state TCC/PCC COE equipment makes up most of the sustainment capabilities in the U.N. mission. The key COE sustainment assets are level I and II medical clinics, aviation assets, heavy engineer equipment, ground cargo and fuel transportation assets, field feeding equipment/kitchens, tentage, generators, water storage, and material handling equipment such as forklifts and cranes. The TCC/PCC COE also contains force protection assets and military patrol vehicles that allow sustainment operations freedom of maneuver. The challenge with having both UNOE and COE is simultaneously having the same equipment tasked for separate purposes. The TCC/PCC would claim the equipment belongs to them to support their operations, and the U.N. mission would claim COE is part of a fleet to support the entire mission, and mission-level requirements take priority. Likewise, a TCC/PCC may request UNOE items the mission presumes the TCC/PCC has as part of their self-sustainment capabilities per the member state MOU.
In the first few years of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, it was standard for Army units to deploy with their home station equipment. Eventually, a fleet of military vehicles and common equipment called theater-provided equipment (TPE) was established, which allowed units to fall in on equipment already in theater. The planning and management of Army home station equipment and TPE in theaters of operation are like the relationship between COE and UNOE or the U.N. member state and the U.N. mission. The difference is the Army units deploying to theater were all part of the same parent organization and did not have to deal with the complexities of varying country-specific equipment and requirements independent from a central organization.
Use of Multimodal Transportation
The South Sudan operational environment comes with a variety of sustainment challenges. Localized conflicts and attacks on supply convoys to take food and other cargo are common occurrences. Also, the weather and its operational impact are less predictable, creating potentially more impactful challenges. South Sudan has very few road networks; most are unimproved dirt roads. The country has a distinct wet season with consistent heavy rains causing flash flooding and undrivable conditions for heavy transport vehicles.
To make matters worse, the mountains in the south channel rain and runoff into the flat plains located in the middle of the country. One of the places most impacted by this effect is Bentiu, a northern village in Sector Unity. The IDP camp at Bentiu was constructed in 2013, but the water level around the camp has risen yearly. At the end of the rainy season in 2022, the water level at Bentiu was nearly nine feet above the ground level of the camp. U.N. engineer units are constantly battling to repair, reinforce, and heighten dikes that stand around the entire perimeter of the camp. The non-trafficable conditions have led UNMISS to explore other modes of transporting supplies to its bases and distributing humanitarian items.
The primary mode of transport during the wet season is air. UNMISS has fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, but there are fewer than thirty aircraft and limited crew flight hours to service an area twice the size of Germany. The weather conditions of the wet season also present challenges for air transportation, with reduced visibility and fewer landing sites due to flooding and soft ground. Fortunately, the long-used mode of transportation of the White Nile River runs south to north through the middle of the country from Uganda to Sudan.
Before the country’s separation from Sudan in 2011 and before UNMISS was established, the U.N. Mission in Sudan provided the required U.N. presence in Sudan and used the White Nile to transport humanitarian aid and supplies to the southern part of what was then Sudan. In 2014, UNMISS began using the White Nile again for the same purpose under the name Operation Lifeline, a barge convoy operation with dedicated marine force protection that transports vital supplies such as fuels, rations, and critical building materials along a 1,000-kilometer river voyage from the southern port of Mongalla to the northern port of Malakal. This is often one of the only methods to resupply the northern sector of the country and is a carefully coordinated effort between contractors, local barge captains, Bangladesh Force Marine Units, military liaison officers, supporting ground security elements, local governments, and mission support and force headquarters management.
One Operation Lifeline convoy movement can transport upwards of 1.5 million liters of fuel, 150 tons of rations, and 40 sea containers of additional materials or equipment. For comparison, the convoy delivers an amount of fuel equivalent to 125 flights or sorties by a Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter, which would erode valuable flight hours and come at a much higher cost. Operation Lifeline is a continuous operation, with loading/unloading, maintenance, and travel time for one resupply convoy totaling around 45 days. UNMISS completes six to eight convoys yearly to resupply Sector North and facilitate UNMISS operations.
A material solution for ground transportation UNMISS is using to overcome the challenging environmental conditions in South Sudan is the SHERP all-terrain vehicle. The SHERP is a vehicle designed to negotiate rough, muddy, and soft soil terrains, and the specifically designed tire tread propels itself while floating in water. The World Food Program (WFP) began using SHERP vehicles to navigate the challenging terrain of South Sudan in 2019. After observing WFP’s success with the vehicle, UNMISS began a vehicle test trial in the spring of 2022. UNMISS leased 15 SHERP vehicles and four trailers from WFP and entered into a maintenance agreement that utilized the existing WFP vehicle workshops in Jonglei State. The Indian Battalion stationed in Bor was selected to train and operate the SHERP vehicles and conduct the test trial. The test trials confirmed the vehicles could navigate short and long patrols, allowing the U.N. mission to project efforts to protect civilians and transport supplies if required. With the trial completed in September 2022, the force commander wanted to retain the current SHERP vehicles and acquire more. With massive flooding during the country’s rainy season, the mission has struggled to maintain year-round mobility, and the SHERP vehicle has shown promise as that potential capability.
The primary roles of the UNMISS JLOC are tracking the performance, overseeing the maintenance of the SHERP vehicles, and participating in the renewal and negotiation of changes to the WFP vehicle lease contract. Distinctive Army sustainment concepts such as two-level maintenance responsibilities between the vehicle operator and the workshop, procedures, and enforcement of proper preventative maintenance checks and services, scheduled services planning, and estimating the amount of shop/bench stock parts to expedite repairs have all been novel concepts within the U.N. mission. To be fair, this is new at the mission level because heavy equipment and military vehicles are brought to the U.N. mission through TCC COE, which requires the TCC to bring supporting maintenance assets. The JLOC has filled this maintenance manager role while working with the force headquarters to create a standard operating procedure for the SHERP vehicles and establish a reporting process that allows information gathering and analysis of the SHERP vehicle performance, maintenance trends, and cost.
Service as a U.N. peacekeeper and U.N. logistics staff officer has been a remarkably unique experience. Learning a new organizational structure and business practices is interesting and challenging. Still, the most incredible part of serving in a U.N. mission is the joint military and multicultural experience. For example, the JLOC comprises military officers from the United States, Canada, India, Kenya, and Bangladesh and civilian staff from the Philippines, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and South Sudan. The combined joint environment offers the opportunity to develop professionally in learning how other militaries conduct sustainment and in applying this experience to finding solutions to sustainment mission challenges.
There are military officers from countries with well-established relationships with the U.S. military, such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, and Norway, and there is also an incredible opportunity to interact and learn from other military officers from all over the world. Outside mission operations, the U.N. provides an excellent opportunity to experience various cultural events and holidays. From events like the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration to the Hindu Holi Festival of Color, from the Anzac Remembrance Day to Norwegian waffles (Hjertevafler) with brown cheese, all the cultural experiences are truly enriching. Participating in a U.N. mission presents an excellent way to broaden oneself professionally and personally; for most, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Maj. Joshua M. Lawrence serves as a multifunctional training developer at the Army Combined Arms Support Command, Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia, but has been serving as a U.S. peacekeeper in the U.N. Mission in South Sudan since September 2022. He holds a Master of Science in management (operations and national security) from the University of Maryland Global Campus. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, airborne and air assault courses, the unit movement officer and air movement officer courses, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, the Support Operations Course, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
This article is published in the Fall 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.