Cheryl Elston - A show of force

Running time
2 min 49 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs


I think it was 24, 48 hours after we'd arrived. I think it was the first morning. We were in the hospital, and, obviously, we had pickets or people that were on guard, and I remember hearing this noise, and it was a chant. And I remember waking up and looking around. Everybody was sort of, "What's going on? What's going on?"

And our window faced on to the street, and like I said, on the other side of the street was the RPA compound. And all of a sudden, we'd seen line, rank upon rank, of soldiers or armed people, because they had a very mismatched uniform, they didn't have a uniform like we did, with weapons and chanting in the local lingo. And everybody, we stood too, immediately, weapons, we had flak jackets, our UN helmets, and there was a lot of confusion. And I, obviously, understand now, it was a show of force to say, "Hey, look, you're in our country. This is who we are, and you're a visitor here," which I guess any country would do, wouldn't they? But it was quite confronting to go, "Oh, God. What have we done? Where are we?" So that was a bit of a welcome to Rwanda.

I remember, again, the infantry guys just staying calm, good communication, and you could see that they were, "What's going to happen here?" And I just remember trying to watch them because I was only a 12-month plus private, and a little bit out of my depth going, "Oh, Jesus. This is where it's going to get real" because they outnumbered us easily. So, obviously, communications came in that speak French. We had a couple of French interpreters who were Australian Army, and most of Rwanda spoke French because the French was the colony, French colony.

So they'd found out that it was just them doing morning PT run. It seemed to be the only morning they did it, but anyway. But, yeah. That was quite scary. Other times you'd get little interactions with them, where they'd just test us. And like I said, it was always our infantry that would react and just say, "Hey, look, we're ready, but we get it." Their professionalism and their discipline deescalated bad events very quickly, and it was good.

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