By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — For the first time the elite specialist Ranger Wing of the Defense Forces has been deployed abroad to serve with the IFET UN peacekeeping force in East Timor.
An advance team from the 30-strong crack unit began its reconnaissance mission to East Timor and Sunday and will link up with similar Australian special forces who will be operating within the 8,000 strong force.
The total East Timor Irish contingent will number about 40, with the extra troops serving as a logistical backup to the Rangers, who are Ireland’s equivalent of the British SAS.
The members of the Army Ranger Wing, which was formally established by government order in March 1980, are drawn from throughout all arms of the Defense Forces. About 85 percent of those who applied to join have failed because of the rigorous standards.
It normally has a strength of 80 to 100 and is based in the Curragh Camp, where it is on "immediate call." A unit can "group up" and be ready to respond to an incident within two hours of an alert.
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Prior to the establishment of the Rangers, a small number of soldiers had been sent by the army to receive special training at American Army Ranger courses at Fort Benning, Ga.
With the rise of international terrorism and kidnappings of politicians and businessmen in the late 1970s and 1980s, the ARW was formally established and received training with similar units in EU countries.
The unit motto, "The cleanliness of our hearts, the strength of our limbs, and our commitment to our promise," is drawn from an old Fianna poem. Soldiers wear distinctive green berets and a special shoulder flash insignia.
They have been on standby during VIP visits and summit meetings and individual members have served within regular army units on UN duty in Lebanon and Somalia.
In addition to anti-terrorist tasks, they are also training to go behind enemy lines in hostile environments for lengthy periods.
They use state of the art signals systems with in-built encryption and frequency hopping systems. They are also equipped with satellite communications.
The unit has an array of sophisticated weapons that give them substantial firepower.
These include the Swiss Sig Sauer P226 9mm semi-automatic pistol, the Remington 870 combat pump action shotgun, The British A196.308 Accuracy International sniper rifle, the German Heckler & Koch 33/SGI MP5 sniper rifle, and the Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine gun that can fire 800 rounds a minute.