By Maj Tristan Hinderliter, Military Public Information Office
Editor’s Note: On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight female peacekeepers who are part of the military component of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). These interviews were conducted in Spanish. Quotes below have been translated into English.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The job of the Chilean Aviation Unit, based at the United Nations’ Logistics Base here, is to provide airlift, troop transport and medical evacuation capability to MINUSTAH.
They do that with two UH-1 “Huey” helicopters, small and versatile aircraft perfect for navigating the rugged terrain of Haiti. Many of the pilots and medical professionals in the unit are women. Meet four of them, all members of the Chilean Air Force.
Corporal Jennifer Cerda, Combat Nurse
Jennifer, originally from Chillán, Chile, is deployed from the Fifth Air Brigade at Antofagasta. She said that when she arrived in Haiti, she was struck by the profound difference between the poverty here and how rich the country is in beauty and natural resources.
“My country is beautiful, but Haiti is wonderful too,” she said. “It’s incredible the amount of natural resources here that can be utilized by the people. It’s an amazing experience to fly over this beautiful island and to discover its marvels.”
The experience of serving in Haiti has allowed her to enhance her medical understanding and improve her capabilities as a nurse, Jennifer said.
One of the most memorable experiences she’s had in the mission was visiting an orphanage, she said.
“An experience like this gives us the necessary strength to continue our tasks far away from our families,” she said. “It fills us up as people and as military women.”
Captain Cecilia Donoso, Medical Doctor
Cecilia, originally from Santiago, Chile, is deployed from the First Air Brigade at Iquique. She’s been in the Air Force for only one year, but she has a deep family bond with the service.
“I came from a long tradition of Air Force members, as my grandfather, father and uncles all belonged to this institution,” she said. “I always wanted to be a part of it.”
She takes pride in knowing that as a medical officer she has the responsibility of making sure pilots are healthy to fly, including during national emergencies or when conducting medical evacuation flights.
Cecilia said she’s been excited to have the opportunity to experience a different culture in Haiti.
“I’ve had the opportunity to know the Port-au-Prince area, this people and culture,” she said. “I think that it’s important to know the environment where I work and to compare the different living conditions here and in my country.”
Captain Bernadita Astudillo, Helicopter Pilot
Bernadita, originally from Santiago, Chile, is deployed from the Second Air Brigade at Santiago. She enrolled in the Air Force Academy in the year 2000, where she spent four years studying and left as a helicopter pilot. Since then, she’s been working as a pilot, mostly on medical evacuation missions.
Now she’s an experienced aircraft commander, capable of flying day or night missions. This is her fourth deployment to Haiti.
“I’ve had the opportunity to fly all over the island, visiting beautiful places as Jeremie and Les Cayes,” she said. “I try to talk with the people in these places to get a better understanding of how they live, and to get a better understanding of the country.”
Like Jennifer, Bernadita said that one of the most gratifying aspects of serving here – besides regular tasks such as MEDEVACs and transportation missions – was the opportunity to visit local orphanages.
“We sponsor the Good Samaritan Orphanage, and we’ve regularly visited them,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to spend time with the children, playing, cooking and fixing the infrastructure. These moments give us the feeling that we are contributing. We try to show them that they can have a better future and that it’s possible to believe in a better world.”
Corporal Natalia Céspedes, Combat Nurse
Natalia, originally from Talca, Chile, is deployed from the Third Air Brigade, based at Puerto Montt. She’s been in the Air Force for six years.
“This is a very different country from our own, with a different culture and a unique language that represents a challenge for us,” she said. “But it’s a very enriching and gratifying experience to help our comrades from other Chilean units and other countries as well.”
She recalled a running activity their unit did recently, which supported a local Haitian medical institution. “We participated and were able to support them,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience.”
Natalia and her colleagues also recently had the opportunity to travel to Cap Haitien, in the northern part of the country.
“We were able to visit the other Chilean bases up there,” she said. “We had a great time with the other Chilean personnel and were able to visit some of the popular sites and get a better understanding of the Haitian culture.”
Captain Bernadita Astudillo, a helicopter pilot with MINUSTAH’s Chilean Aviation unit, talks to a doctor and two combat nurses beside a UH-1 Huey helicopter at Logistics Base, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The four women are all in the Chilean Air Force and deployed to MINUSTAH. (Photo by Heberle Estinord, MPIO)
Captain Bernadita Astudillo, a helicopter pilot with MINUSTAH’s Chilean Aviation unit, sits in the cockpit of her UH-1 Huey at Logistics Base, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This is her fourth deployment to MINUSTAH. “I’ve had the opportunity to fly all over the island, visiting beautiful places as Jeremie and Les Cayes,” Astudillo said. “I try to talk with the people in these places to get a better understanding of how they live, and to get a better understanding of the country.” (Photo by Maj Tristan Hinderliter, MPIO)
Captain Cecilia Donoso (center), a doctor, Corporal Jennifer Cerda (far right), a combat nurse, and Corporal Natalia Céspedes (near right), also a combat nurse, demonstrate loading a stretcher into a UH-1 Huey helicopter at Logistics Base, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Medical evacuation missions are a common part of their job with the Chilean Aviation unit in MINUSTAH. (Photo by Heberle Estinord, MPIO)