By Jimmy Rhatigan
IT WAS a military operation but the emphasis was on positivity and pride.
The square at Stephens Barracks on the periphery of our city was dotted with army vehicles of all shapes and sizes and a tented village highlighted the many sides of army life.
An open Friday afternoon welcomed families, friends and neighbours who turned up in big numbers to get the inside story of members of our Defence Forces.
There was a spectacular mix of tots, teens, mothers, fathers, granddads and grandmas, including old soldiers, men and women of peace, who had patrolled the world at other times but were happy to be on the terra firma where they may have felt most comfortable.
The plan was to show our people what army life is like, how mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters in uniform make a very worthwhile contribution to society in a world that, sadly, is not always a neighbour to Utopia but, thankfully may be a healthy distance from dystopia unpleasantness.
Between 2pm and 4pm, the square was akin to a children’s playground where youngsters marveled at displays of unarmed combat, riot control and desert survival.
Army vehicles, including trucks for carrying troops, military police motorbikes ambulances and light carrier jeeps provided an apt backdrop for a carnival-like fulcrum of activity.
Inquisitive children loved to sit in the seats of ‘real army’ vehicles and they delighted too in a well equipped engineers’ boat.
An impressive display of weaponry included General Purpose Machine Guns and Styer Rifles.
What would be described as weapons of war were not glorified but were simply on display as part of the tools of the trade of soldiering,
Over the years the men and women of our Defence Forces have been engaged in United Nations peacekeeping missions in war-torn regions of the world, part of a curriculum vitae that has earned our soldiers international respect.
Some little boys brought their own ‘weapons’, toy guns that may have been delivered by Santa Claus but were now very much in fashion in a well prepared military display that certainly hit the spot.
It was the unarmed combat demo that grabbed the imagination, the showpiece of the afternoon perhaps as
co-ordinator Corporal Michael Comerford put a brilliant team of disciplined fighters through the paces in a brilliant display of undoubted skills.
A display of self defence by the men of the 3rd Battalion included what was called a monkey where a soldier puts his foot on an opponent’s chest, grabs him by the collar and flips him over his head, and, wait for it, remarkably lands on him.
A captive audience loved every minute of it.
Spectacular too was a weapons’ demo where soldiers came together and performed as a team to surprise a sentry on duty.
The grand finale, The King of the Ring, was one soldier take on three others.
The brave battlers included Privates Bysouth, Doyle, Bryan and
Things were much calmer in a nearby tent where youngsters had their faces painted by uniformed soldiers.
Interesting too was a survival area, run by Sergeant Anthony O’Malley. The note for your diary had to be that if you ever get lost in a desert Anthony’s troops are the ones to call.
A demo of drills with riot squad soldiers carrying shields, batons and wearing protective gear showed how army comrades work as a team to quall any outbreak of violence.
As the warm sun continued to fend off threatened rain, the barracks yards that had been packed with people and cars were slowly, but surely, evacuated.
The operation controlled by Lt Col Larkin had been a super success.
Not a shot was fired but yet most would have gone home with a better idea of what kith and kin do when they go to work.
There was little tittle-tattle about army pay.
A few only mentioned the war.