The International Faces of Operation UNIFIER

November 21, 2019 - Defence Stories

Author: Captain Felix Odartey-Wellington, Joint Task Force-Ukraine Public Affairs Officer

STARYCHI, UKRAINE - For Captain Christine Andersen of the Royal Danish Defence Academy, her path to Operation UNIFIER in Ukraine started with a chance introduction to maple syrup. Well, sort of.

The Danish officer is Chief Linguist for Joint Task Force-Ukraine (JTF-U), the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) mission training the Security Forces of Ukraine (SFU).

“Sweden and Denmark contribute personnel to Op UNIFIER and I previously deployed on UNIFIER in 2016 and 2017,” she explains. “Just before my first deployment, I worked with a Canadian officer conducting weapons inspections at military installations in Ukraine. This was my first introduction to Canadians’ love of maple syrup. The rest is history.”

As Chief Linguist, Captain Andersen is the unofficial ambassador of her country. Officially, she leads the ten-person Danish contingent and coordinates a multinational team of military and civilian professionals performing translation functions for the Canadians in their work with Ukrainian partners. With her previous UNIFIER experience, her counsel is highly valued.

Major Anders Blom of the Swedish Armed Forces commands the Swedish element in JTF-U.  “My first association with the CAF was during research about Operation MEDUSA at the Swedish Defence University,” he recalls. “After what I learned, the chance to deploy with Canadians was an easy sell.”

Apart from coordinating the work of a revolving number of Swedish personnel deployed on Op UNIFIER in critical areas such as translation, demining and military policing, Major Blom provides planning and mentorship support at the JTF-U headquarters near Starychi.

1st Battalion of The Royal Welsh from “across the pond” has also contributed a member in the person of Captain Anthony Kironde-Strain. While Op UNIFIER works closely with the British-led Operation ORBITAL, the infantry officer is part of JTF-U because he is completing a two-year attachment with 3e Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment (3 R22eR), the main Canadian unit currently deployed on the mission.

“I studied French in university so I jumped at the chance to work within a Francophone unit in Canada,” Captain Kironde-Strain says, busily juggling operational and mentorship duties at the JTF-U headquarters. “My wife and I love it in Canada. Being able to deploy with 3 R22eR has been an incredible bonus.”

Commenting on his experience, Captain Kironde-Strain says: “I feel very much at home working in JTF-U. CAF members have been very welcoming and apart from mutual ribbing and the fact that I wear a different uniform, I don’t feel as though I’m from an external unit.”

Captain Andersen shares similar sentiments. “Overall, UNIFIER has been a unique learning experience and a great opportunity to meet tons of interesting people,” she observes. “I’ve been exposed to militaries of several countries. Despite differences in military culture, it’s taught me a lot about international cooperation.”

“Op UNIFIER has been an efficient way for Swedes to support the SFU,” says Major Blom.  “We’ve much in common with Canadians and Danes in terms of attitude, values, humour and tolerance.”

For the Canadians, the positive feeling is mutual. “Our mission role models international cooperation,” notes Lieutenant-Colonel Frédérick Côté, Commander, JTF-U. “We are fortunate to have talented and committed professionals from Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom in our ranks. We also cooperate with Lithuanian, Polish, American and British missions. We demonstrate that we are stronger together.”

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