Kiwi’s courage helped save thou­sands

Feilding-Rangitikei Herald - - Taihape - KIRSTY LAWRENCE AND KAROLINE TUCKEY

A New Zealand woman who took charge of soldiers and po­lice to lead refugees to safety through a bat­tle zone has won a top mil­i­tary award.

Lieu­tenant Colonel Me­lanie Childs was named the New Zealand De­fence Force Per­son of the Year in a cer­e­mony at the Air Force Mu­seum in Christchurch on Fri­day.

Childs was work­ing at the UN head­quar­ters in South Su­dan’s cap­i­tal of Juba in July last year, dur­ing what are now known as the Juba Clashes.

Fight­ing broke out be­tween forces sup­port­ing the coun­try’s pres­i­dent and its vice pres­i­dent. Hun­dreds were killed in skir­mishes in and around the city, that at times in­volved tanks, rocket pro­pelled grenades, ma­chine guns and he­li­copters.

For five days, UN House, the head­quar­ters Childs was serv­ing at, was caught in the cross­fire. 182 build­ings in the com­pound were struck, and a neigh­bour­ing camp that pro­tected as many as 27,000 dis­placed peo­ple also came un­der the hail of bul­lets and ex­plo­sives.

Those killed in­cluded at least 20 peo­ple hop­ing for UN pro­tec­tion, and two Chi­nese peace­keep­ers. A later UN in­ves­ti­ga­tion found the re­sponse by their own forces was ‘‘chaotic and in­ef­fec­tive’’, and the 1800 troops sta­tioned at UN House had been ‘‘un­der­used’’.

‘‘Lieu­tenant Colonel Childs took charge of in­fantry and po­lice units that were in dis­ar­ray, and helped shep­herd thou­sands of dis­placed refugees who had been liv­ing in camps around the UN base, to ar­eas that of­fered them greater pro­tec­tion,’’ Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Tim Keat­ing, Chief of the New Zealand De­fence Force, said.

He de­scribed her as a ‘‘coura­geous leader’’.

Childs was also noted for ‘‘moral courage’’ in stand­ing up for what is right among her peers. She ‘‘showed re­solve in chal­leng­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iours within the De­fence Force, mak­ing it a bet­ter and safer place for ev­ery­one’’, a De­fence Force re­port on the awards said.

She is cur­rently the commander of the 2nd Com­bat Service Sup­port Bat­tal­ion of the army, and sta­tioned a Lin­ton Army Base, just out­side Palmer­ston North, where she has be­come the chair­per­son of the Lin­ton Com­mu­nity Board and or­gan­ised fam­ily days and din­ners for the fam­i­lies of de­ployed service men and women.

This year, she has also been a guest lec­turer at the Kofi An­nan Peace­keep­ing Train­ing Cen­tre in Ghana, and won a sil­ver medal in ath­let­ics at the World Masters Games in Auck­land in April.

Childs said win­ning the award felt sur­real, es­pe­cially be­ing awarded it in her home town of Christchurch.

‘‘I’m hon­oured and hum­bled to even have been con­sid­ered.’’

She said the win came as a real shock and she be­lieved there were many peo­ple de­serv­ing of such awards in the De­fence Force.


Lieu­tenant Colonel Me­lanie Childs is recog­nised as New Zealand De­fence Force Per­son of the Year by NZDF chief Tim Keat­ing, for brav­ery amid the Juba Clashes in South Su­dan.

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