In 2016, the Defence Forces’ Captain Eoghan Carton project-managed the changeover of combat engineering, infrastructure and utilities support for the Irish-Finnish Joint Battalion in Lebanon.

Captain Carton won Engineers Ireland’s 2017 Chartered Engineer of the Year Award in November 2017 for the project: 'Lead Nation Changeover 2016: The changeover of combat engineering, infrastructure and utilities support from Finland to Ireland in UNIFIL'.

UNIFIL is the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon and was first deployed in March 1978. The Irish Defence Forces have been deployed in three separate deployments to UNIFIL over the past 40 years. This particular deployment began in 2011 and has continued unbroken since then. "Working closely with the Finnish forces is very important for our inter-operability and both sides can learn from each other,” says Carton. UNIFIL is tasked with achieving the following objectives:

• Confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon

• Restore international peace and security

• Assist the government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area

The Irish Army has suffered 47 fatalities through various deployments. UNIFIL maintains the cessation of hostilities and stability in areas along the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon. The organisation occupies various camps and outposts along the whole length of the Blue Line, several of which are occupied by the Irish-Finnish Battalion.

'A more exciting route to studying engineering'

Carton grew up working on a farm and was always interested in maths and science. Engineering was an attractive career option from an early age. “I applied for various engineering courses after school. I had a keen interest in the outdoors and knew a number of people in the military. I applied for and was lucky enough to be offered a 21-month cadetship in 2003, so I took this option knowing that it was a more exciting route to studying engineering. “Before making my decision, I was friendly with a local scout leader who was in the Corps of Engineers, and he told me all about his career path. I also did a lot of other research. In 2005 I was commissioned as an infantry officer to the 27th Battalion following the completion of my cadetship.

"A year later, I applied to study civil engineering at NUI Galway. I studied that over the next four years. When you are not in college, you return to your unit, so you are still working in the Defence Forces. And, of course, you are still administrated by the Defence Forces.”

Serving with UNIFIL as a soldier and engineer

Carton’s first tour in Lebanon was a six-month deployment in November 2012, and the second was in May 2016. “Rotations last six to seven months but there is also a three-month pre-deployment training phase in Ireland, which is extensive. “Ireland and Finland contribute troops to a joint battalion in UNIFIL. The lead nation of the battalion has the largest troop commitment and is responsible for the battalion’s administration and infrastructure. A changeover of the lead nation was planned for November 2016. From that point on, the Irish Defence Forces became responsible for providing all infrastructural and utilities support, combat engineering, firefighting and force protection engineering. “That, of course, means that Finland would be taking away a lot of their infrastructure, generators, water treatment facilities, fire engine and other equipment. We had to document what we would need beforehand, procure, transport and install it, which was a large task. We needed to be able to do everything using our own engineering personnel as we didn’t have guaranteed access to local contractors.”

The lead nation changeover project

Carton commanded the Engineer Section of the 53rd Infantry Group – the Irish part of the joint battalion which deployed in May 2016. In the battalion there were more than 520, and Ireland’s contribution went from 180 to 340, with Finland proportionally reducing the number of troops it deployed. “After we arrived in May, there was a handover period of approximately a week to 10 days. The first three months were spent identifying the infrastructural requirements in the camp – identifying what we need to install and the means by which we are going to do it working within the real estate limitations. "We knew what was going to be arriving from our work on the preparation phase in Ireland. We had prepared generators and water purification plants, and then trained on them so that I could be 100 per cent confident that the personnel in my section would be able to install them when they arrived in camp even though they might not have had the opportunity to use the equipment for several months. “We had to ensure that everything was ready before we left, and it would later be shipped from Dublin to Beirut. We were fortunate that procurement was not an issue and we were well supported by Engineer Branch, Defence Forces headquarters, in that respect,” he says.

Generators and containerised water purification plants

Equipment required included the following: generators, containerised water purification plants, fire prevention and firefighting equipment, including a fully equipped fire appliance, along with all associated electrical equipment and consumables for those, cabling etc. The Defence Forces also shipped out a variety of other specialist equipment including a remotely operated mine flail, called a MineWolf, that can clear mines or other unexploded ordinance from the ground. “The Corps of Engineers has become very experienced over many different missions in the last few years in constructing, maintaining and operating camps abroad. The main priorities are electricity and water. They are mission-critical services. Without electricity, we cannot operate. We have five 500KVA generators in the Lebanon camp and there is more than enough redundancy in those generators to power the camp at all times.

“We have backup generators at the most critical operational areas. Should the camp lose power for whatever reason, critical areas have their own generator ready to kick in straight away. There are various tiers of priority for other power needs, such as water purification and the catering centre.”

The challenges of leadership

There are numerous challenges surrounding the maintenance of the power supply and generators. “When I’m there as an engineer officer, I will have in my platoon various Corps of Engineers personnel with their own skillsets. "Every soldier in the Corps of Engineers has a technical skill, whether electrician or carpenter or a plant operator, and I rely 100 per cent on those individuals to be able to maintain the generators and ensure that they keep functioning – because I’m not a fitter or an electrician. There is a huge reliance on our individual engineers and it’s very satisfying to be part of that team effort,” says Carton. “In 2016, I had a sergeant, two corporals, and three privates in my section and all of them have very particular technical skills. The whole camp can rely on the performance of these individuals, no matter what their rank.

An unusual leadership challenge

“If you’re an infantry officer you have done all of the courses and practised the skills that you are expecting your troops to have. However, I may not have completed the same courses as my troops - in some cases, they might have completed four-year apprenticeships - so that’s an unusual leadership challenge.” The engineers are part of what’s known as the Battalion Support Group (BSG). Others in the BSG include transport personnel, signals personnel (they look after IT and radios) and ordnance (they look after weapons). For the Corps of Engineers personnel in this particular mission, maintenance of infrastructure was the priority. “We regularly contribute to other operational requirements outside of engineering, but for us, our mission here was infrastructural support."