The year was 1976. UAE troops arrive in Lebanon as part of an Arab peacekeeping mission. Coming just a few years after unification, it was an early indication of how important humanitarian work would be to the nascent UAE Armed Forces. Uniforms and photos from this deployment are now on display as part of a new exhibition in Dubai's Etihad Museum.
Protectors of the Nation: Sacrifice and Giving looks at four key deployments: Kosovo, Lebanon, Somalia and Kuwait. A year in the making, the exhibition features archive footage and photographs of the Rulers visiting the Emirati contingents and local people. A picture of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, shows him greeting children in Kosovo. Rare video shows Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai in military fatigues. We see him getting off a helicopter, greeting troops in Kosovo and visiting a hospital. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed can also been seen in this film.
"We have participated in lots of peacekeeping missions around the world. These are four that we wanted to show but there are more," Abdulla Al Falasi, director of the Etihad Museum, told The National.
"We put these pictures up to show the young people. Most of them have not seen Sheikh Mohammed [bin Rashid] or Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed with uniforms. They are too young to know or see them wearing uniforms."
The exhibition at the Etihad Museum was completed in partnership with the UAE Armed Forces Museum and Military History Centre. Uniforms, firearms, radios, badges and much more are on display. "The Armed Forces museum were very helpful in providing everything and without them, this wouldn't exist," said Mr Al Falasi. An army helicopter was trucked in and sits outside the front of the museum. Three military jeeps are also on display, including one of the very first Land Rover's used by the army.
Prominent too in the exhibition is the UAE's role in Kosovo. The war formally ended in 1999 when Nato military intervention forced Yugoslav and Serb forces to withdraw. The situation was bleak and lives were in ruins after years of conflict that erupted following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Emirati troops arrived as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission and built camps for 15,000 refugees, supplied medical services, constructed a hospital and conducted patrols. Video footage shows Emirati soldiers on these patrols and interacting with people.
The 1993 mission to Somalia under the aegis of the UN saw UAE troops dig wells, guard relief distribution points and give medical care. In Kuwait, troops were part of the operation to liberate the country and helped to secure the Kuwait-Iraqi border.
"Our forces were there to help, to assist humanity: this shows the humanitarian side of the armed forces. We wanted people to see this," said Mr Al Falasi.
The exhibition opened in December and it also traces the evolution of the army from Trucial Oman Scouts to the force it is today. Part is dedicated to the Scouts and how the British-established force ensured stability in the years before unification. The force was renamed the Union Defence Force in 1971, which became the Federal Armed Forces in 1974. By 1976, the formal process to combine each emirate's defence force was complete.
"One of the biggest achievements of these years was unifying the army. After the unification in 1971, there were numerous meetings to unify the strength of the whole emirates as we were one nation now."
Planning for the exhibition took a year and installation four months under the guidance of Mr Al Falasi and the Etihad Museum's Alice Querin and Latifa Al Falsasi.
Other parts of the exhibition celebrate national service and the technological advancements made by the UAE Armed Forces.
Protectors of the Nation: Sacrifice and Giving runs at the Etihad Museum until the summer. Tickets cost Dh25 and include access to the entire museum. For more information visit etihadmuseum.dubaiculture.ae