As a child growing up in Nova Scotia, Cpl. Nicole Reid didn’t have very many nice belongings.
“The things I had, I had to fix with my father so they worked and when I didn’t understand, I taught myself how to do it,” she explained.
Now, working as an aviation technician for the Canadian military, Reid’s expertise is contributing to a lifesaving — and often dangerous mission — in Mali where years of armed conflict among warring ethnic and extremist groups as well as the country’s military has created a humanitarian crisis.
The 25 year old is one of approximately 35 women in Canada’s 250-strong military contingent on the ground in the West African country. They’re there as part of the Canadian government’s promised contribution to the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission there that began in 2013.
CTV’s Omar Sachedina is in Gao, located in Eastern Mali, to glimpse how Canadians are aiding peacekeeping efforts on the ground and most importantly, in the air.
The primary objective for Canadian military personnel is to provide medical evacuations of injured peacekeepers using three Chinook and five Griffon helicopters. The Canadian forces have only conducted two such missions since they began arriving in Mali in June, but they have been instrumental in transporting cargo and peacekeepers from other UN partners.
To keep the helicopters in good working condition, Reid tends to the equipment to ensure heat, dust, and particles of sand don’t accumulate and threaten their performance. And there’s no shortage of work for the Canadian military aircraft, which have already logged 1,000 hours of flight time and carried 190,000 pounds (86,182 kilograms) of cargo.
The Canadian contingent is only a third of the way into its year-long mission in the country, which has become increasingly unsafe for peacekeeping groups with more frontline exposure than the Canadians.
Earlier this week, French helicopters were shot at by a group of 50 armed terrorists in the border region between Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, according to the French government.
In the last three months, 287 civilians have been killed — more than any other previous three-month period since UN peacekeepers arrived in the country five years ago. That’s according to a recent UN report that paints a grim picture of the violence that has displaced thousands and killed 173 peacekeepers.
Col. Chris McKenna, the Canadian Task Force Commander in Mali, said the UN’s report on the deteriorating situation demonstrates how the country needs the help of peacekeepers now more than ever.
“You must have them here to try and stop this, to try and stem the flow of insurgents,” he said. “It’s not a trigger for us to run. This is a trigger for us to double down here.”
It’s an ambitious effort in a complicated crisis that may take years to solve — years the Canadians don’t have. Canada’s mission is scheduled to wrap up in July 2019 and there are no plans to extend it.