Cheryl Pearce: Stories of Service

Running time
6 min 39 sec
Date made
Place made
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Major General Cheryl Pearce, a distinguished soldier, has served in 2 major peacekeeping operations. This video tells the story of Cheryl’s service as a peacekeeper in East Timor and Cyprus. Cheryl is the second woman in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping history ever to hold the position of Force Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). She was also part of the first all-female leadership team in UN peacekeeping history. Cheryl has received the Conspicuous Service Cross for her achievements.

Student inquiry questions

  1. How does Cheryl describe the role of United Nations' peacekeepers?
  2. What were some of the similarities and differences Cheryl described between her experiences in East Timor and Cyprus?
  3. In the video, Cheryl refers to a 'buffer zone'. Do your own research and explain what a buffer zone is in your own words.
  4. During the video, Cheryl speaks of the important role that women have in peacekeeping operations. Explain why 'women in peacekeeping is essential'.
  5. Why is it important for peacekeepers to remain impartial? How might this be difficult?
  6. What were the challenges Cheryl faced as a leader and role model?
  7. Toward the end of the video, Cheryl says that effective peacekeepers 'lead the way which is most natural to you'. What might be the benefits of leading in that way?


[Music plays]

Opening credits. A collage of photos arranged on an old sepia file folder show three separate peacekeepers: a colour photo of a blonde-haired lady in an Army uniform, a colour photo of a young male wearing a blue beret with his police uniform, and a monochrome photo of a military officer with a hat and a moustache. A cloth badge with the blue and white logo of the United Nations lies among the photos. The title Stories of Service: Peacekeepers appears.

Photos lying on an old file folder show a soldier throughout her career. She has straight shoulder-length blonde hair. In some photos, she wears the blue UN beret. A United Nations badge lies among the photos.

Narrator speaks: 'Major General Cheryl Ann Pearce has been a career soldier who has served in 2 peacekeeping operations, one, as Force Commander, in Cyprus and the other in East Timor.'

Monochrome and colour photos show Cheryl throughout her childhood. Photos show Cheryl covered in mud during military training, posing in her dress uniform, preparing to parachute from a plane and wearing her full army uniform and medals.

Narrator speaks: 'As a young girl from a country town on the Murray River, with no family background in the military, Cheryl could not foresee the path her career would take. She graduated from Officer Cadet School Portsea in December 1985 as part of the first integrated class of male and female officers in the Australian Army and she went on to carve out a distinguished career.'

Female UN soldiers walk past a UN building. A UN official and officers walk past a line of UN soldiers standing at attention. A wall is painted 'Demilitarized reunited Cyprus, 4/3/2017.' A tangle of razor wire tops a wall. People stroll past picturesque buildings.

Narrator speaks: 'The United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus is one of the longest-running UN peacekeeping missions set up in 1964 to prevent further fighting after more than a decade of conflict between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities on the island of Cyprus.'

Wearing a face mask, Cheryl salutes soldiers presenting arms. She signs a document, gives a presentation, and talks with an official.

Narrator speaks: 'Cheryl was the Force Commander of the UN peacekeeping operation in Cyprus from 2019 to 2021. She was only the second woman ever to serve in such a role and part of the first all-women leadership team in UN peacekeeping history.'

In an interview, Cheryl sits before the Aboriginal, Australian and Torres Strait Islander flags. She wears a dark blazer. Photos show Cheryl working with soldiers and officials.

Cheryl speaks: 'My role was about the de-escalation of the tensions and to prevent a recurrence of fighting. Working with the Turkish commander and also the Greek commander, we worked closely with the United Nations police and the civilian community. My experiences in the 2 United Nations peacekeeping efforts that I have been involved in, East Timor in 2002 as a young Major and also my most recent in Cyprus, had very many similarities, but also differences.'

In uniform, a younger Cheryl crouches with East Timorese children. A local elderly woman wears a colourful headcloth. Cheryl, in uniform, poses with children.

Cheryl speaks: 'United Nations is used in a peacekeeping manner to help host nations move from conflict to peace. And when I was in East Timor, I was a military observer, and it was a monitor, observe and report. And it was hands-off, but I was engaging with the communities, looking at not only the physical security but the food and water security, health and education, and just getting a better understanding from the communities from which we were operating in.'

A sprawl of picturesque buildings runs to the horizon. Cheryl presents to other soldiers. A sign in English and Greek reads, 'UN Buffer Zone, drive through of military vehicles or personnel PROHIBITED.'

Cheryl speaks: 'In Cyprus, it's a little bit different. I really had to keep the calm and stability inside the buffer zone between the 2 opposing forces. But what was similar between them both was it didn't matter what culture they came from or the background. They were about families and communities who were trying to live in a secure and safe environment. So it was peacekeeping, ensuring we could get into a peace-building phase to support the host nations.'

Cheryl poses with female and male soldiers. Photos show female soldiers keeping watch on a headland, guarding barriers, waiting by a UN vehicle and holding a clear shield.

Cheryl speaks: 'Women in peacekeeping is essential. We don't have enough globally. The UN is working hard to increase the number of female peacekeepers within our missions. You need both females and male peacekeepers to do that.'

In uniform Cheryl sits at a long table with officials. She walks and talks with an official. They pass walls covered with photos of the UN's work. Photos show Cheryl talking with local women, smiling with her daughters, and doing paperwork outdoors.

Cheryl speaks: 'In one instance, I can be the Major General communicating with the Turkish General and the Greek National Guard General and talk about de-escalation of tensions from 2 opposing forces who are heavily armed. So I can work at that level. But, equally, I can engage with the communities from a female perspective. And for that, I can contribute from my own learned experiences as a mum, as a family, but as a female and communicate their needs.

A sign reads, 'UNFICYP HQ, Blue Beret Camp.' Soldiers guard an entrance. Soldiers pass through a large gate, under a sign reading, ‘United Nations Exchange Gate’. Soldiers carry equipment to a vehicle. A sign in 3 languages reads, 'Police Control'. At a gathering, soldiers holding plates of food listen to Cheryl talk.

Narrator speaks: 'The United Nations stresses the importance of impartiality in the duties of a peacekeeper. That means not favouring one side or the other, having the strength to enforce the agreed rules and calling out wrongdoing. It is vital to maintain a sense of calm and stability.'

Photos show male and female UN soldiers walking past dilapidated buildings, and crouching near a machine gun. Cheryl is handed a trophy featuring a statue of a soldier. Cheryl chats with male soldiers. At a dawn service, she holds a wreath.

Narrator speaks: 'Being unarmed in conflict areas isn't without danger. While in East Timor, Cheryl saved a civilian being attacked by a group of men with machetes. She was awarded the 2002 Chief of Defence Force Commendation for Bravery for this action. Cheryl reflects on the other personal qualities that she found to be important, including communication, humility and respect.'

Cheryl sits before the flags. The windows show views of mountains and buildings.

Cheryl speaks: 'If I think back to both my missions about the skills that really contributed to the success in both, it is about communication, communication, communication, and it's both verbal and non-verbal and how we act and posture ourselves.'

UN soldiers walk with a line of children who are strolling with their arms around each other. Girls smile and wave through a fence. Cheryl walks with a male solder.

Cheryl speaks: 'We were unarmed and, therefore, an ability to understand the people who we're communicating with and come across as non-threatening was really important. Our impartiality, which is a key characteristic of peacekeeping, was essential to ensure the success on the ground. Additionally to that, it's also about humility and actually understanding the nuances of not only the communities for which we're engaging, having a real respect of their pressures and their priorities. In both East Timor and Cyprus, I was one of many nations. We're all equal, and we're all working together for a single outcome.'

Photos show Cheryl throughout her career - covered in mud after training, and in uniform, holding a certificate. Cheryl leads soldiers and officials from a Hercules, she shakes hands with a male soldier. In full uniform, wearing her medals, she stands at attention during ceremonies. She speaks at a ceremony. Cheryl stands with male and female soldiers wearing bulletproof vests.

Cheryl speaks: 'When people ask me, 'What is it like to be a role model as a senior female' I smile inwardly because if I go back to my 18-year-old self who first joined the Army from the Riverland in South Australia, I never envisaged that I could be a role model. I fought really hard, I loved what I did, and I did what I love. And then, as I got more senior, I realised that there wasn't really a lot of people like me. There wasn't any females who went ahead of me who had children. I was fighting new norms at every level that I went to. And then when I got to a higher rank, I actually had the Chief of Army at the time saying, 'I need you to step out and really show the face of Army and be a role model.' So there's a lot of pressures to be something you're not. You try to fit in, but how to hold on to that authenticity within yourself and then to be able to bring it to the forefront and lead the way which is most natural to you. And when you can do that 24/7, you inspire the people you lead, you empower them, and you allow them to be the best they can be.'

In photos, Cheryl stands near military vehicles, walks past a plane talking with another female soldier, shakes hands with a Light Horse officer, smiles with a man from Forces Entertainment and walks on an airfield with a senior officer.

[Music plays]

Cheryl speaks: 'I've had a journey of 36 years, which has had tough moments, but I look back with joy and a real respect for the people I've served with and the people I've had the opportunity to meet and for the ability to have had deployed to represent Australia, both under the UN flag and as part of Australia's commitment in Afghanistan.'

The logo for the Australian Government Department of Veterans' Affairs appears in white on a black screen.

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