Vincent Moreau didn’t have much time to get used to the sweltering West African heat before he was pressed into action.
The Victoriaville, Que., native arrived at the Canadian Forces’ Camp Castor in Gao, Mali, on Jan. 11, 2019.
Two weeks later, the medical technician was aboard a CH-147F Chinook helicopter heading about 400 kilometres southwest to the Douentza area where a United Nations convoy had struck an explosive device.
“The convoys were under attack,” said Moreau, 33. “We got there and the patient was already stabilized, but it’s always about fractures and everything related to the pelvis.”
Two Sri Lankan peacekeepers died in the blast, but the Canadian medical helicopters carried five others out.
It was one of three air evacuations Moreau has been part of during his seven-month deployment in the troubled former French colony, which is considered the most dangerous UN peacekeeping mission in the world.
Moreau and his colleagues at the Canadian base in Gao will soon be leaving the arid climes of the African desert for more temperate landscapes, back in Canada. Ottawa has said it will not extend its military mission in Mali past the end of August when a Romanian contingent will take over medical evacuation duties.
So far, 195 UN personnel have died as part of the organization’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, which was established after a coup toppled the government of then-president Amadou Toumani Touré in 2012 and violence broke out.
The UN has 16,453 personnel on the ground in Mali, including 12,644 peacekeeping troops, many from neighbouring countries like Burkina Faso and Senegal.
It’s the Canadians’ job to serve as a kind of on-call air ambulance service for those front-line soldiers as they patrol areas riven by ethnic violence and populated by Islamist militants, some linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.