Webinar Highlights US Soldiers’ Peacekeeping Efforts

Webinar Highlights US Soldiers’ Peacekeeping Efforts

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Photo by: Courtesy

American troops who support peacekeeping efforts as United Nations military observers are unsung heroes, a retired U.S. Army colonel and author said during an Association of the U.S. Army Noon Report webinar. 

Many people were unaware of the role of American military officers and the role they played in the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization since the modern state of Israel was founded in 1948,” retired Col. L. Scott Lingamfelter said during the Dec. 5 webinar. “Their experience … [has] received scant treatment in military literature, yet the lessons that we learned [from them] are very important.” 

A 1973 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, Lingamfelter served as a field artilleryman and a Middle East foreign area officer. He details his transition from preparing for combat to serving as a military observer in a peacekeeping mission in his book, Yanks in Blue Berets: American U.N. Peacekeepers in the Middle East

In 1948, the U.N. launched the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, or UNTSO, in response to the conflict that had erupted between Israel and its Arab neighbors, who were opposed to the creation of a Jewish state.

The UNTSO quickly found itself overseeing the ceasefire lines between combatant parties, and in the ensuring decades, as countries along the eastern Mediterranean engaged in a series of escalating conflicts, the UNTSO was continually challenged in its peacekeeping mission.

The U.N. military observers are unarmed and “are trained to observe and report violations of the agreements of ceasefire, disengagement,” according to the UNTSO website. Personnel come from 27 nations and include 153 military personnel, according to the website. 

Trained as warfighters, soldiers tasked with peacekeeping had to pivot in a way that Lingamfelter characterized as “discovery learning” with “little formal training.” 

“But what we did learn was nonetheless valuable,” he said. In addition to learning from partner nations and about conflict in the Middle East, Lingamfelter said the most important lesson was “learning episodically [about] how to deal with the parties to the [Arab-Israeli] conflict in reporting violations, resolving disputes, negotiating hostage releases and dealing with the deadly hostile fire that surrounded us all the time.” 

Though Lingamfelter was unarmed during his time as an observer with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, it worked to his advantage. “Being an unarmed observer is a dangerous business. ... All that was in our holster was just hard work, resourcefulness, patience and decisiveness,” he said. “Interestingly, I do believe that the fact that we were unarmed, on occasion, was beneficial to our credibility, because we were not seen as a threat.” 

As he closed the discussion, Lingamfelter emphasized that “peace is worth it.” 

“I'm a warrior, and I was trained to be a warrior,” he said. “But I think if you talk to any warrior, we will all agree that peace is better than war. Sometimes you have to fight those wars, but it’s good to learn lessons from the past … to help populate our ideas for shaping these operations.”