Saturday, April 19, 2008


General Peter Van Uhm, newly appointed Dutch Commander Armed Forces, did not keep his son out of harm's way. Last Thursday, April 18, 1st Lieutenant Dennis Van Uhm (23) and Private 1st Class Mark Schouwink (22) lost their lives in Afghanistan when an IED exploded near their open-topped Mercedes scout car. Two other troopers on board, Cpl. Roger Hack (25) and Pvt. Toninho Norden (20) were gravely wounded, the latter critical.

Foto De Volkskrant

1st Lt. Dennis Van Uhm, Private 1st Class Mark Schouwink, 45ste Pantserinfanteriebataljon

Lt. Van Uhm commanded a platoon of the 45th Armoured Infantry Battalion (Ermelo) as part of a local operation in the west of the Deh Reshan region, Uruzgan Province, primarily aimed at reconnoitring the area. In one particular village there, Khorma, the Dutch troops often face ambushes and IED attacks. The operation involved around hundred Dutch and Afghan troops. With the manoeuver completed after a few days, the Dutch returned to their base in Camp Holland, the main Dutch base (at the same time the main ISAF base, which the Dutch share with the Australians) in Uruzgan Province near a locality named Tarin Kowt (the other Dutch base is Camp Hadrian at Deh Rawod). On the road back, at twelve kilometers northwest of Camp Holland at 5 o'clock Dutch time, an IED ripped through the fourth vehicle, in which Van Uhm, Schouwink, Hack and Norden drove. Van Uhm and Schouwink were killed instantly, bringing the total number of Dutch deaths in Afghanistan to sixteen.

Foto ElsevierIn a tragic twist of fate, just the day before, Dennis Van Uhm's father, Peter Van Uhm (52), formerly a Lieutenant General commanding the Dutch land forces, had assumed overall command of the Dutch Armed Forces, succeeding Gen. Dick Berlijn, and been promoted four-star general. The Van Uhms are a military family. A brother of the general, Marc Van Uhm, is a brigadier general commanding 11th Air Mobile Brigade. And young Petrus, born in 1955, decided to join the Armed Forces after becoming captivated with the feats of arms of the 82nd "All American" US Airborne division which liberated his birthplace of Nijmegen. Probably the operation which made the greatest impression on him was the crossing of the Waal river to capture a critical bridge by 3rd Battalion, 504th Regiment of the 82nd Division in 26 small unprotected rowboats, under heavy fire from the crack 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg - one of the most heroic operations of the war. If so, I can't help but having a feeling of history coming full circle... The sacrifice of US soldiers and Dutch resistance fighters (remember Jan Van Hoof!) against a common enemy, setting a young Dutchman on a path which would lead to his son... fighting alongside US soldiers against a common enemy some sixty-four years later.

Nijmegen bridge. Foto

If there is one important lesson to be learned from Lt. Van Uhm's death, it's that the Dutch should phase out their open-topped Mercedes scout cars ASAP and use vehicles which offer better protection. Patrolling in SUV's, even if they are khaki-clad, is suicidal. They are now learning the hard way what their American brothers-in-arms learned four years ago in Iraq - and these used Humvees, of which even the non-uparmoured ones offered better protection than the Dutch vehicles.

Regardless from that... we salute these Heroes and Warriors, who fell in the same conflict which started in earnest on that fateful day in september , almost seven years ago. A conflict against an evil radical islamic ideology which wants to cast back humanity to the 7th century, a goal which is as insane as it is unlikely. Because of humanity's progress which is ultimately forward, no matter the setbacks. And because of men like Lieutenant Van Uhm and Trooper Schouwink. Their cause is a just one, and their sacrifice will not be in vain. May they rest in peace. If you are a religious person and a caring human, you might want to pray for them - and for all the other ones whose names evade us.