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November 28, 2002

Oregon Guard passes time, keeps peace on lonely Sinai

Keepers of the peace at a spot where there seems no need for peace to be kept. Will such forces someday be asked to serve in much more volatile area between the Israelis and Arabs?
SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt - The clouds hung gray and thin off the Red Sea, looking more like shadows of curtains cast above the water than distant thunderheads. Spc. Hans Christenson, a National Guardsman from Roseburg, watched foot and boat traffic in the 80-degree weather.

Christenson is a member of B Company, 186th Infantry, First Battalion of the Oregon Army National Guard. The company is out of Klamath Falls, where he's a student at the Oregon Institute of Technology.

He's been on the giant sun-baked rock that is the Sinai Peninsula since the beginning of July, involved in one of the United States' most important foreign policy assignments.

Christenson, at his outpost north of Sharm El Sheikh, watched the graying sky.

``It's not that bad,'' he said of the mission. ``I'm single, getting a chance to see another part of the world.''

Christenson is among 529 members of the Oregon National Guard deployed to the Sinai to monitor the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords, which brought an end to war between Israel and Egypt and formed the Multinational Force and Observers mission.

Forces from 11 countries serve on the Sinai Peninsula to ensure the treaty is enforced and peace between the two nations remains.

Regularly referred to as the MFO, the mission began in 1982 and has involved, for America's part, solely regular U.S. Army troops. However, last winter the National Guard was called in to free up the regular Army for the current war on terrorism.

Oregon is the second National Guard unit to perform the MFO mission. The Arkansas Army National Guard took the post in January and left in July once the Oregon Guardsmen showed up.

The Oregon Guardsmen are serving in the Sinai until the end of January. The chief function of the MFO is watching the environment around nine outposts, keeping track of area traffic.

In three-hour shifts, Oregon Army National Guard soldiers sit, watch and report movement they see along roads, sea lanes and in the sky. The outposts were built at strategic points across the Sinai to facilitate the observation of traffic across the land mass.

Bedouin tribes still wander across the open land, often bringing in mines they've come across and giving them to soldiers.