Captain Craig Ashburner has swapped his dark blue beret for a light blue one on a United Nations mission in Israel. 

He is deployed on Operation Paladin as a military observer with the Truce Supervision Organisation, working with personnel from more than 20 nations to support stability in the region.

“We are responsible for monitoring the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israel and Syria, ensuring that both countries observe their obligations,” Captain Ashburner said. 

“Most of our time is spent either conducting vehicle patrols or on an observation post at the area of separation.”

The role of a military observer is critical to ensure the United Nations can continue to support peacekeeping around the world. 

Australian personnel deployed are unarmed and impartial in ensuring that all parties involved in peace or ceasefire agreements adhere to their obligations.

“It’s great to gain understanding of how the United Nations operates and its commitment to a rules-based international order,” Captain Ashburner said.

“The first few months on deployment were challenging, as there is a requirement to learn and understand the entire United Nations system, as well as your individual role within the mission.

“This all occurs during the first two months as on-the-job training, until you’re deemed a senior observer and able to work independently, leading small groups of observers.”

Captain Ashburner was born in South Africa and migrated to Mackay with his family in 2001. He attended St Patricks College before joining the Army in 2007. 

Employed as an officer in the Royal Australian Engineers back home, Captain Ashburner’s most recent role was as a project engineer managing the development of the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program 2020.

“This deployment is completely different to my normal role,” Captain Ashburner said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge too, professionally and personally.

“The organisation had to make adjustments to ensure we could still achieve our mission within the host nation government’s restrictions and keep our people safe at the same time.”

Captain Ashburner is looking forward to return home in December. 

“I can’t wait to spend time hiking with my partner, Lisa, before getting back in the ocean and doing some diving and surfing,” Captain Ashburner said.

May 29 marks International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, which pays tribute to all the men and women who have served and continue to serve in United Nations peacekeeping operations.