By James Miller
Throughout the past year, the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) regional security office at Embassy Juba has provided security support for more than 40 flyaway missions in South Sudan. These missions enable the embassy to monitor partners that support the $500 million in U.S. humanitarian aid delivered across the country. The DSS Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) contractors play an integral part in planning, equipping and executing weekly missions that fly over the vast savannas, wetlands and woodlands of South Sudan.
While flyaway missions in Juba are frequent, the inevitable challenges in planning are unique to each trip. The efforts involved can bridge multiagency and international groups including embassy staff, the U.N. Diplomatic Safety and Security Service, Eastern European colleagues in the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service, Ukrainian pilots, South Sudanese control officers and U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal to maintain perimeter security. Each one of these coordinated efforts presents its own set of obstacles.
In June, a planned trip to Boma National Park presented more than a few challenges. The U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Thomas Hushek, along with a large delegation of diplomats, staff and local partners from the embassy, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other officials from the government of South Sudan were to visit Boma for the official launch of a U.S. government-supported Boma-Bandingilo Landscape Project—a three-year, $7.5 million conservation project implemented by WCS.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, the intertribal conflict between the Murle and Jie people postponed the original plans, necessitating additional preparations for the WPS team. Despite this setback, WPS Shift Leader Shawn Myers was able to proceed with his plan to lead a five-person security team, along with Ambassador Hushek and other diplomats, to Boma. However, when the team arrived at the helicopter to end their trip, the pilots announced that they could not take off until a local airplane, whose wheels were covered in mud, was cleared from the path of the runway. Myers and the WPS team did not hesitate, and even the ambassador assisted the team as they pushed the local airplane off of the runway. Soon after, the helicopter flew above the savanna into Juba, and the mission continued.
The Boma trip proved that unexpected challenges can happen with flyaway missions, even with meticulous planning. Regardless, the DSS regional security office in Juba, along with crucial guidance and support from the WPS team, always manages risk—and sometimes even physically moves an aircraft—to achieve success.
James Miller is a DSS special agent at Embassy Juba.