"We are inspired by our fathers and by our brothers to serve for peace"
These are the words which create the strong bond amongst a group of seven young, inspiring, courageous and skilled female soldiers of the 1st Fijian Infantry Regiment currently serving with the United Nations Guard Unit (UNGU) in Iraq.
In the midst of the intense rays of the mid-morning sun, the women soldiers - two of whom are pioneering Naval Officers with the Fiji Naval Unit - adjust their blue UN embossed berets and take their positions alongside the 55 male soldiers of the Fiji UNGU. While their heartbeats are racing - due to the excitement of receiving their first-ever UN medal honouring their initial three-month service - their heads are held high and their feet march in formation to the beat of the drums. The ceremony has begun.
Of significance is the fact that the auspicious occasion also marks the 51st anniversary of the Republic of Fiji's independence, and honours the dedication, sacrifice and service of the Fijian troops - past and present - who have served in Iraq since 2004.
Presiding over the ceremony as Chief Guest of Honour was the Deputy Special Representative for Iraq of the United Nations Secretary-General, Ms. Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir. She gracefully inspected the Guard of Honour, following which she pinned on shiny, silver UN medals on the left breast pocket of the deserving soldiers. In her remarks, DSRSG Sólrún Gísladóttir congratulated the Fiji battalion and commended them for their "commitment, dedication, grace and humbleness" to provide safety and security for the premises of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and hubs across the country.
The parade fall out indicated the end of a colourful and prestigious event, but also marked the start of a customary informal gathering. If one has had the pleasure of being in the company of Fijians, or being welcomed with the traditional warm greeting of "Bula, Bula", then surely it would come as no surprise when the Fiji UNGU naturally burst into choir with the most upbeat and melodious hymn symbolising the gist of service and sacrifice; the zest of happiness and pride.
Looking around the UNGU camp, the visible smiles on the faces of these commendable seven young women, all between the tender ages of 24 and 28 years, wipe out the worries of being so far away from home and from the embrace of loved ones. They truly fit into the peacekeeping environment and are confident that sharing their time and expertise in the field has an underlying sense of satisfaction that they probably would not experience in a home-setting. As one of the women shyly notes: "I am inspired to serve for peace; to make the world a better place".