WAITING FOR 6 MONTHS, 29 DAYS AND 13 HOURS
An increasing number of Mongolian young men and women are going on peacekeeping missions abroad in an effort to secure world peace. To date, around 13,000 Mongolian soldiers and military officers have participated in international peacekeeping missions, fighting day and night to protect refugees from harm at the most dangerous situations. The never-ending suffering and brutality they see every day is excruciating both physically and mentally. It’s impossible to imagine how severe and difficult peacekeeping missions are unless you experience it firsthand, but so is the wait for their return.
Families of peacekeepers experience as much anguish, sorrow and torment as their courageous son, daughter, father, mother, brother, sister or significant other when they go on a mission because they have to send them off to a war zone and endure countless days and nights worrying about their wellbeing and whether they’ll be able to reunite. While some peacekeeping operations last for a few months, some continue for years and there are numerous brave men and women who sign up for such missions continuously, taking only a couple of weeks off to see their family.
According to some peacekeepers, their strong desire to ensure world peace and complete their mission with honor is fueled by the thought of their family but at the same time, the longing to see them again can crumble their valor and will.
NOVEMBER 6, MONDAY
The fifth battalion of Mongolian soldiers who recently completed NATO’s Decisive Support mission in Afghanistan was scheduled to land at Chinggis Khaan International Airport on November 6. While waiting for them to land outside of Military Unit No.303, family members of the peacekeepers could not help but worry whether the plane will land without getting delayed by the strong wind and heavy snowfall.
As the due time approached, a loud thunder struck in the sky and a large plane became visible from the clouds. Right then, many of the anxious family members seemed to relax seeing that the plane had arrived safely. Peacekeepers quickly got out of the plane looking fascinated to see snowfall after spending over six months under the scorching sun. The battalion was welcomed at the airport by Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Mongolian Armed Forces, Major General J.Badambazar, US Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, and their subordinates. While standing at attention, their yellow boots became wet from the thick snow and their nose tips started to redden by the -5 degrees Celsius temperature, but that didn’t seem to bother them because they were finally going to embrace their beloved family very soon.
Everyone rushed to their family afterward. One of these eager peacekeepers was the Deputy Commissioner of Armed Forces Unit No.189, Lieutenant Colonel Ch.Munkhjantsan, who has been counting the days to meet his children and family. This man is the father of Asian weightlifting champion M.Ankhtsetseg.
After 210 days, he finally embraced his mother who insisted on greeting him at the airport despite her poor health. She kissed his left cheek to complete her unfinished custom where she purposely didn’t kiss the last time in hopes to meet him again. (This is a very common custom in Mongolia.)
At home, his children were impatiently waiting for him to return and kept phoning their “spy” to know their whereabouts. They were getting ready to hold a surprise for their father. The children’s excitement and yearning for their father was evident in the decorations they had put up on the walls and the feast set up on the table. They said that everyone helped to decorate the house.
Ch.Munkhjantsan’s youngest daughter, OyunErdene, apparently refigured a balloon in the shape of the letter “N” to make the letter “Y” to complete her letter decoration on the wall which read “Happy Day” the night before even though she had an important weightlifting tournament the next day. She missed her father’s first entrance to his home after six months because of her tournament but at the exact moment, she called to tell him that she won a bronze medal.
The only son, Erdenebat, came up to his father and showed him the bronze medal he had won earlier that day. Ankhtsetseg had worn her national team’s uniform and medals to show it off to her father.
“It seems that my children won tons of medals and prizes while I was gone. Should I wear the medal I got as well?” the peacekeeper joked with his children. The children seemed to have missed their father very much as they couldn’t leave his side even for a second. The eldest daughter, Ankhtsetseg, then back-hugged her father and played around for a while. There probably was nothing more that could have made these children happier than to be embraced and pampered by their father. The room was filled with laughter and warm atmosphere.
Afterward, Munkhjantsan reminisced about his first time on a peacekeeping mission to Sierra Leone 11 years ago and talked about how technological advancements have made his missions easier and more convenient to communicate with his family over the years.
“But still, there’s a tremendous difference between talking through a screen and being able to see my family in real life, be able to hug them, and even smell them,” he said.
Many things happened in this family during Munkhjantsan’s absence. The biggest incident was his second daughter Nomin-Erdene’s reconstructive plastic surgery for a burn she acquired while taking a 20-litersheavy pot with porridge to her classroom at her sports school. At the time, she tripped and fell down on the boiling hot soup, getting severe burns on her face, neck, chest, and arms. The family managed to raise over 70 million MNT for Nomin-Erdene’s surgery in two weeks with generous donations made by the public through a campaign.
The father said that he can never forget the day Ankhtsetseg won three gold medals at the 2017 Asian Youth and Junior Weightlifting Championships in Nepal because it happened on the same day Nomin- Erdene had her second surgery in South Korea. “It was a day of anxiousness and happiness,” he described. Ankhtsetseg also became a two-time champion and won another gold medal at the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, Ashgabat 2017, after successfully recovering from her injury. She was recently awarded with the Order of the Red Banner of Labor through a presidential decree, which made her father feel over the moon.
These past six months without their father, husband and son wasn’t easy for this family, especially when most of them had to endure strenuous training. Six or seven months can pass by quickly for those who don’t have a clear goal in life and don’t have to wait for anything in particular. But this period of time is especially long for families of men and women going to war zones to ensure peace on the other side of the globe. Despite the sorrow and constant worry, they support and encourage each other and strive forward to achieve their goals just like Munkhjantsan’s family.
Munkhjantsan and his family celebrate his return from peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan