881 Signal Squadron - Chowl Zari Detachment

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United Nations Iran Iraq Military Observer Group

88 Signal Regiment

By Paul Cormier

United Nations Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group {UNIIMOG) commissioned August 1988 to monitor the armistice between Iran-Iraq ceasefire agreement. 25 countries deployed personnel to both countries acting as United Nations Military Observers {UNMOs} to include Canada. In addition, the Canadian Military sent in over 200 Signal and Support specialists to provide the High Frequency (HF) communications link along the ceasefire line and back to the respective headquarters stationed in both countries to include strategic links to UN Headquarters and Canada. Our detachment “Team Site 3 Chowl Zari” was one of the first to deploy out. I can still recall arriving in location, directing our crew to raise the antenna and perform the first radio check. “Bakhtaran this is Chowl Zari Over”, “Chowl Zari this is Bakhtaran, loud and clear over”. That response was a sense of euphoria throughout my entire body that I will never forget.

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Team Site 3 Chowl Zari, Iran:
(1) MCpl Paul Cormier {Canada}; (2) Capt Andrew MacInnis {Australia}; (3) Maj Satyendra Kumar {India}; (4) Maj Eric Nicander {Sweden}; (5) Maj Cengiz Aykota {Turkey}; (6) Capt Simon Orende {Kenya}; (7) Maj Alex Mari {Italy}; (8) Capt Jesse Gyasi {Ghana}; (9) Cpl Jim Kelly {Canada}; (10) May Roberto Martinez {Uraguay}; (11) Cpl John Spencer {Canada}

Missing from photo:

LCol D’Aris {France}; Capt Mad Badamasee {Nigeria}; Pte Jim Gouthro {Canada}

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Team Site 3 Chowl Zari, Iran: This was our home while deployed in Iran. The boys (John Spencer, Jim Kelly and Jim Gouthro) did a great job getting the place all cleaned up inside; coco and rubber matting on the floor and fixing the screen door. Jim Kelly also painted murals (awesome) inside the back walls where the three slept and I slept up front within our so called kitchen-living quarters. It really wasn’t that big inside but we made it work for the 3 months while we were there. At night, we would swing open the screen door and run out very fast. Scorpions always fell from the roofs edge onto the ground and none of us wanted to get one caught on our head. One day as I walked into the bunker, Jim Gouthro was standing in a corner with a pick axe handle, eyes as wide as saucers. A scorpion was inside on the floor. I told him I would spray him with the oven cleaner we had (we didn’t have an oven). When I did, the scorpion went snaky and was running all over the place. Well if you could have seen Jim that day, it was the funniest thing. He started hitting that scorpion, or at least trying too with the pick axe handle, continuing to miss it after each fierce strike. Knocked it senseless after a bit; our new pet was put in a jar as a friendly reminder of the entire episode.

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Chowl Zari, Iran - Ali and Hussein who looked after some of the UNMOs comforts, preparing food that came off the truck, etc. We, the four Canadian signallers were self-sufficient and were housed in a bunker as seen in the distance. An unfortunate accident occurred in Nov 1988 timeframe; an Iranian soldier who assisted these two lads was re-fuelling the hot water fuel tank (it was still lit and located in the structure seen in this photo) and an explosion took place. I was positioned underneath the vehicle with a vehicle technician at the time that is seen in the distance. As I moved my head out to observe, the French LCol D’Aris who was having a shower at the time, came darting across the road way into his bunker {he was under the impression Artillery was incoming}. Within seconds, the Iranian soldier appeared and on fire. Two of the Iranian guards patrolling the area, swiftly got him to the ground and with a blanket put out the fire. The injured soldier was quickly put into a vehicle and transported to a nearby clinic. As the Turkish UNMO and I assessed the area, the only remaining item on the roadway was the soldiers burnt flip flop. In discussion with the Iranian camp LO, the soldier suffered a great deal of third degree burns and was receiving the medical care that he needed.

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We are celebrating “Diwali” ~ Paul Cormier and John Spencer. Diwali, or Dipawali, is India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness. This festival is as important to Hindus as the Christmas holiday is to Christians. Major Kumar from India who is taking this photo was educating us on this particular holiday.

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The “Chowl Zari” Compound. One morning I headed up to our communications vehicle to relieve Jim Gouthro; he just completed the midnight shift. He was in a great deal of discomfort, something had gotten lodged deep into his ear canal overnight, it was still alive and flapping its wings. I had Jim lay his head down on the radio table so as I could inspect his ear and I could see the lodged culprit. I got on the radio to Bakhtaran and requested to speak to a medic. Procedure was to place drops of warm water into Jim’s ear and for him to get some rest. By the afternoon, the large moth had drowned itself in the water and it was dislodged onto Jim’s pillow.

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On route to Ceasefire Line, Iran. Iranians were blowing up their own bridges to slow down the Iraqi advance. Fording with vehicles was a daily challenge in a number of places. Travelling 50 kilometers could take up to 2 or 3 hours, depending on the route that was planned out for that particular monitor visit.

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Tank nose first, outside our camp “Chowl Zari”.

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Destroyed tank on route to Ceasefire Line.

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On route to Ceasefire Line, Iran

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Ceasefire Line discussions and sipping on some lemonade; with UNMO Captain Andrew MacInnis, Australian Army. The Iranian Officer with the fixed stare was shot and wounded three times during the Iran/Iraq conflict. I did ask the interpreter permission to take this photo but by the look, I’m not so certain I got the nod. None the less, great photo using one of those disposable cameras. The Ceasefire Line in some areas was 80 km inside the Iranian internationally recognized boundaries and in other areas the Iranians were inside the Iraqi boundaries that changed a number of times throughout the 8 years of war.

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This was a Ceasefire line meeting with 2 UNMOs from the Iraqi side (on the right, one is a Canadian UNMO deployed on the Iraqi side) and 2 UNMOs from the Iranian side (Maj Eric Nicander ~ Sweden is located far left of photo and next to him is Maj Satyendra Kumar ~ India). The Signallers; Myself, John and the two Jims would alternate and drive out to the cease fire line on daily basis with the UNMOs. We would haul along our AN-PRC 515 HF Manpack Radio for internal and cross border communications.

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On one occasion during a monitor visit, an Iranian and Iraqi soldier where sharing the same trench. As the UNMO investigated the situation, it became clear that during the night, the Iraqi forces traversed beyond the Iranian trenches by 100 feet and began to dig in. Luckily no shots were fired during this event however the Iranian soldiers were then directed to jump into the same trench the Iraqi soldier just dug out. Hence, both soldiers pointing their weapons at each other in very close quarters.

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A UN communication specialist team arrived mid November 1988 to install the antenna tower seen outside the UNMOs bunker. Our High Frequency {HF} communications vehicle we used throughout the operation is parked alongside with the whip antennae deployed. In addition, another homemade HF antenna was erected behind the vehicle up on the hill that was used from dusk to dawn. Bakhtaran was located 150 km northwest beyond the rock face.

A Motorola radio was positioned inside the UNMOs bunker, where we operated and trained the observers prior to our departure. The daily traffic or Situational Awareness Incident Report produced by UNMOs included:

ceasefire locations visited that particular day;
ceasefire violations and or alleged violations;
potential POW or KIA exchanges; and
movement of military personnel and assets.
John Spencer and I climbed the tower and mounted the UN flag that can be seen on the top. It was a one man job but I think we both needed moral support from each other throughout the climb.

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Photo depicts us redeploying from Chowl Zari to Bakhtaran or Kermanshah as it was once named in November 1988. We had made a quick stop in the town of Eslamabad-e-Gharb. Within minutes we were surrounded by hundreds of curious locals. That is Pete Hanson with the UN hat on. Pete re-supplied our detachment in Chowl Zari once a week, every Thursday rain or shine. Most weeks, there was very little that we needed or even available other than the hard rations and required fresh bottled water. I can still recall the day Pete arrived with this huge grin on his face. It was 6 weeks into the deployment (I don’t think I could have forced down another breakfast IMP - Individual Meal Pack) and he had a truck full of goodies. Yes a fridge, TV, VCR with weekly movies, steaks, chicken, chops, vegetables, fruit and even mail. It was like Christmas in September. To all the support personnel that made it happen and Pete thanks for battling those roads every week, you were a life saver.

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Our Journey