The Finnish Defence Forces International Centre trains military observers for UN operations
The Finnish Defence Forces International Centre (FINCENT), which is part of the National Defence University, implements an Advanced Induction Training (AIT) event as part of a separate training and selection event of the Crisis Management Centre at the Pori Brigade. The event provides Finnish officers preparing for military observer duties with basic knowledge and skills needed in such operations.
Mud is squishing under the military boots as a military observer team is advancing towards the agreed rendezvous point. It is time to negotiate, and the negotiating partner is a notorious warlord. Before entering the warlord's tent, the team goes through their duties once again and reviews their notes – here it begins, and everyone knows what is the name of the game.
This could well be a real situation in one of the world's crisis hot spots, but now it is about military training provided by the Finnish Defence Forces. The Finnish Defence Forces International Centre (FINCENT), which is part of the National Defence University, has trained military observers for UN operations for several decades. And even though the pandemic is throwing a spanner in the works, the training continues – of course, partly adapted to the situation and guided by strict safety protocols.
The AIT training event provides the future military observers with sufficient foundations for performing their duties. The training package includes a lot of theoretical training and practical exercises on situations military observers encounter in their role. Due to the pandemic, the training event has been reduced from a three-week United Nations Military Observer Course (UNMOC) to a one-week training event, with no foreign students among the participants. In spite of this, the language used in training is English.
“Finland has a duty to participate in UN military observation operations, even though the situation is challenging. And we respond to the demand by arranging sufficient training for the observers who will soon be heading to their operation areas,” says Major Juha Viljanen, director of the AIT training event. “The pandemic has undeniably affected the way practical education and training in particular is implemented, but with precise planning and sufficient preparedness we can carry out the training event safely,” he continues.
For the duration of the AIT training event, Patrol Base 9-2, located in the immediate vicinity of the Niinisalo garrison, serves as the home base for the observer trainees. There is a lot of hustle and bustle at the base when patrols are preparing for their duties but, in spite of the evident rush, everyone in the indoor facilities is wearing a mask, and they even remember to keep the safety distance. “Safety first, that's how we operate,” says Jenni Saalimo, coordinator and security officer of the training event. “All participants in the exercise were given a ‘coronavirus memo’, which everyone carries with them in their thigh pocket. It describes in detail what measures we require from each participant,” says Saalimo.
It is clear that when a military observer course that used to last three weeks is squeezed into a one-week training event, the training topics must be examined critically, carefully selecting the topics that best serve the needs of military observer operations.
“We included in the training programme the kind of entities all observers are sure to meet in their role and which the UN has also obligated us to train to military observers. These include training modules related to information gathering, patrolling and observation as well as negotiation and mediation situations,” says Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Pekka Sihvola, principal lecturer of the AIT training event.
People seem to be learning the lessons and consider the training relevant. At least Major Janne-Matti Peltola, soon to be deployed to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization's (UNTSO) military observer operation, feels that way: "The efficiency of training has been increasing steadily. Practical exercises, such as meeting and negotiation training, were particularly useful. I've learned a lot of new things.” After each exercise, the instructors give feedback to the students on how they managed in the task at hand. In addition, the teams discuss different solution models between them, and put the lessons learned into practice when moving on to the next task.
Even though the Advanced Induction Training event is only about halfway through, the FINCENT staff have already their eyes on the future. The preparations for the UN Military Observer Course (UNMOC), planned for August, are in full swing, and people firmly believe that the course will be held.