Between Egypt and Israel

I have no idea how the turmoil in Egypt will play out. Obviously, one concern would be that if fundamentalists take over, the peace between Egypt and Israel will break down. For over 30 years, the US Army (and a goodly number of other nations) has stationed a force on the Sinai Peninsula to enforce the provisions of the Egyptian-Israeli peace.

Known as the Multi-National Force and Observers (MNFO), this roughly brigade sized contingent has maintained a vigilant watch to verify that both Egypt and Israel are abiding by the terms of the peace accords, primarily in terms of not staging military forces in areas off limits to them.

The main US contribution to this force has been a support battalion and an infantry battalion. The support battalion provides medical, aviation and Explosive Ordnance Disposal support to then entire multi-national force.

For the first 20 years of the MNFO, the active Army provided the US infantry battalion assigned to the force. Typically, an infantry battalion would be assigned for a six month tour with the MNFO. Since 2002 the mission has been assumed by infantry battalions from the National Guard, and they are generally assigned for a 10-12 month tour. Many of the support missions are still assigned to the active component though.

Forces assigned to the MNFO wear the standard US ACU uniform, but also wear the distinctive MNFO badge and wear “terracotta” (that’s orange to you and me” colored berets or boonie hats.

647px-MFObadge

Why orange? Well, when the MNFO was being constituted, the UN declined to participate. Any attempt to stand up a UN peacekeeping force would likely have been vetoed by the Soviet Union, at the behest of the Syrians.  Instead, the US, Egypt and Israel worked with other interested nations to establish the force. In addition to the US battalion, Fiji and Columbia  contribute an infantry battalion apiece. As noted above, various other nations contribute smaller contingents to the MNFO, such as aviation detachments and Military Police.

While no US forces have faced combat during service in the MNFO, tragedy did strike our troops. On December 12, 1985, a chartered airliner returning troops from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) crashed on takeoff from a refueling stop at Gander, Newfoundland, Canada.  248 soldiers and the 8 flight crew were aboard. It was the day I graduated from Ft. Benning. As an aside, my very first fire team leader when I got to my unit was supposed to be on that flight. He’d left on a previous flight in order to transfer out of the 101st, and into my unit. To say he bore survivor’s guilt would be an understatement.