Two €150,000 missiles fired as Irish troops prepare for Lebanon

About 350 personnel train in Glen of Imaal ahead of quarantine period and deployment

The 119th Infantry Battalion have been preparing for deployment to South Lebanon with UNIFIL. The group of 352 will feature 109 personnel travelling overseas in an operational capacity with the Defence Forces for the first time. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

It is not every day that a soldier gets to fire a €150,000 missile. In fact, in the Defence Forces it happens about once a year.

The Javelin anti-tank missile, which got its annual run-out in the Wicklow mountains on Wednesday, is one of an array of weapons the 119th Infantry Battalion will be bringing when it deploys next month as part of the latest United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) mission.

Just under 350 personnel from 25 counties will be deploying, but only after completing two weeks’ Covid-19 quarantine in Ireland.

The battalion was put through some final training procedures on Wednesday before entering their quarantine bubble. In the morning, soldiers simulated a routine patrol during which they came upon an abandoned SUV.

Inside was a casualty, played in this instance by a life-sized dummy. As soldiers evacuated the casualty, targets popped up from the undergrowth, forcing them to lay down suppressing fire while dragging the patient to safely.

Members of the 119th Unifil Infantry Battalion heading to Lebanon in November at the Glen of Imaal. Photograph: Alan Betson
Photograph: Alan Betson
Members of the 119th Unifil Infantry Battalion heading to Lebanon in November at the Glen of Imaal. Photograph: Alan Betson
Photograph: Alan Betson

“These are live rounds,” said Battalion Sgt Maj Stan Hurley from Limerick. “This is the highest level of training you can get.”

For the soldiers, the highlight of the day is the Javelin shoot. As the huge cost of the US-made anti-tank missile means it is only fired once a year or so, the rest of the training is done using a simulator.

The honour of firing it is granted to the two gunners who finish first and second in their class. They took their firing positions in the Glen of Imaal before launching two missiles at a metal container 2km away, which played the role of an enemy tank.

“Thank Christ they didn’t miss,” said one the soldiers supervising proceedings after €300,000 worth of ordnance slammed into the container.

Volatile situation

Weapons such as the Javelin are highly unlikely to be used during the deployment, said Lieut Col Fiacra Keyes, who acknowledged the situation is Lebanon was more volatile than usual.

The country is in the middle of a financial meltdown, which has been exacerbated by Covid-19 and the huge explosion in Beirut Port last year.

“The ambiguity of the situation means we don’t know how people are going to react to us. By and large we are very well received, but you just don’t know,” said Lieut Col Keyes.

He and Sgt Maj Hurley agreed, however, that Lebanon was much more dangerous for Irish troops in the 1980s, when rockets frequently flew over UN bases.

Of the 347 Irish troops deploying, about 100 are going for the first time. These include brothers Liam and Eoghan Harris from near Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary.

“We’re a bit nervous as expected but looking forward to it as well,” said Eoghan.

Liam added: “It will be a bit of craic.”

Lieut Meabh O’Brien, from Naas, Co Kildare, commands a fire support team when she’s not playing rugby on the wing for Leinster. She is one of four female officers making the trip and is looking forward to the challenge.

“The training we get is excellent. You’re definitely well prepared for safety and looking after the troops.”