At 0730 hours on Friday, 27
August 1999 the soldiers of Bravo Company, 3 RAR, were ordered to parade
in front of their headquarters building in Kapyong Lines at Holsworthy
Barracks, Sydney. They were promptly and curtly told that the Company was
to immediately deploy to a destination unknown on a mission that was yet
to be announced. It was the first time that 3 RAR soldiers had an inkling
of their involvement in OPERATION SPITFIRE.
Bravo Company was the 3 RAR
PBG on line rifle Company and as such was expected to be operationally
deployable within a notice of forty eight hours should the need arise.
This notice to move was not adhered to by necessity. B Company drove out
of the Battalion gates at 1500 hours on 27 August. Forty-eight hours had
been reduced to seven and a half. For the first time since South Vietnam
the soldiers of `Old Faithful' were embarked on active service.
That fateful Friday was a
surreal day for Bravo Company and 3 RAR as a whole. The deployment order
was given to the Officer Commanding (OC) Bravo Company, Major Stephen
Grace at 0500 hours in the morning and was passed to the rest of the
Company two and a half hours later. What followed could best be described
as a flurry of frantic activity in an atmosphere of disbelief and cynicism
on the part of the soldiers, Senior Non Commissioned Officers (SNCO's) and
officers of B Company.
After so many false alarms
and short notice exercises most were half convinced that it was all just
another false start. It was only as lunchtime approached and hasty
arrangements continued to be made by all ranks that it began to dawn that
this was no practice run and, indeed, that the real thing was upon them.
The Company headquarters of
Bravo Company consisted of the OC, his second in command (2IC) Captain
Craig Stockings, the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Warrant Officer Stanley
Doran, the Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS) Staff Sergeant Chas Peck
and his storeman Private Jason Eaton. A signal detachment of four led by
Corporal Norman Mazzaferri was attached, as was a medical detachment of
five under the direction of the company medic Corporal Christian Oakley.
To round out the headquarters were the company clerk, and an
Administration Company detachment of an armourer and a vehicle mechanic.
All worked furiously to meet unforseen deadlines.
Prior to deployment the
company's three rifle platoons were immediately reinforced by the
Battalion to their full manning with the addition of a number of Mortar
Platoon soldiers as acting riflemen. The platoon commanders, Lieutenant
Dan Gosling (4 Platoon), Lieutenant Keith Lawton (5 Platoon), and
Lieutenant James Wilton (6 Platoon), along with their Platoon Sergeants,
set about last minute equipment checks and provided what orders they were
able to their men. A number of further attachments were made to the
company on the eve of its departure. A ten man section of Assault Pioneers
and Engineers under the command of Sergeant Gregory Polson and Corporal
Pete Condie came under the Company's command. So too an eight man team of
Direct Fire Support Weapons (DFSW) platoon soldiers led by Corporal Kevin
`Jock' Reid. Final additions were two Reconnaissance (Recon) Platoon
patrols of five men under Corporals Phil Larkam and Michael Reyne and four
sniper pairs coordinated by the Battalion's Sniper Supervisor, Sergeant
Shane Armstrong. The final element of the Company group was its Forward
Observer (FO) party of four, led by Captain Dave Kelly. This artillery
team was redesignated a Civil Military Operations Team (CMOT) for the
operation. Numbering more than one hundred and fifty men the Bravo Company
Group was indeed a formidable one.
From the moment the
operational order was issued to the Company its battle procedure
progressed at a rapid rate. Apart from the well practiced stores
distribution and series of checks, a number of peculiar and particular
incidents occurred that strongly suggested to the soldiers that something
serious was afoot. The 2IC, who marched into the company at 0600 hours the
morning of the deployment, was immediately `frocked' from Lieutenant to
Captain and he began in earnest to provide passport applications and
photos to members of the Company who did not have them. The Company group
was hastily issued with `NINOX' night fighting equipment and the Battalion
was formed up into a hollow square on the parade ground. Bravo Company was
central and stood for an address from the Commanding Officer (CO)
Lieutenant Colonel Nick Welch. If these significant events were not enough
to convince soldiers, who had been hoping for this day to come throughout
their careers that it was actually here. The buses that pulled onto the
Battalion parade ground at 1500 hours certainly ended their scepticism.
Bravo Company, 3 RAR, as the on line rifle company, deployed on OPERATION
SPITFIRE as it drove out the gates of Kapyong Lines that afternoon.
Bravo Company's bus ride
was direct to Royal Australian Airforce (RAAF) Base Richmond. It was a
ride that all aboard had done numerous times on exercise or for parachute
continuation training. True to Murphy's unwritten law, one of the buses
had a little trouble finding its way to the RAAF base, but there was never
any real danger of not making the next link in the journey north. If
anything, the prolonged bus ride gave the Company staff a chance to review
the deployment order and start to come to terms with the whirlwind
departure and what was potentially looming beyond it. It was now apparent
that the Company group was bound for RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern
Territory under a cloak of secrecy. There were no television cameras where
the company was headed and none to see it off. Indeed, any contact back
home was strictly monitored and curtailed. It became clear that OP
SPITFIRE was not widely known of by the public. Instead news footage of
the time seemed interested only in playing file footage of Darwin's Is'
Brigade units while the real move was under way.
The Company arrived at RAAF
Richmond and promptly alighted onto an Air Force Boeing 707 for a
continuation of the journey north. The group touched down at RAAF Tindal
at around 0300 hours on 28 of August. After a very long and draining day
the Company was dispersed into a tent city transit lines camp. The camp
had its own kitchen and ablutions, but otherwise the Company was isolated
from the rest of the world. The first day of the deployment ended for
Bravo Company with a hot dinner / breakfast of Chicken Kiev, amongst other
things, put on by the Airforce cooks. It was a prelude to the commendable
level of support provided by RAAF Tindal to the Company for the duration
of their stay in the Northern Territory.
Once in Tindal, Bravo
Company came under the operational command of Joint Task Force (JTF) 504
and was married up with C 130 aircraft and Black Hawk helicopter support.
The next eight days were
busy for Bravo Company. The rifle platoons and attachments launched with
gusto into a schedule of training normally reserved solely for operations
and rarely found on any exercise. At this stage there was no firm
indication of exactly when and where or even how the Joint Task Force
would deploy but this uncertainty did not slow the pace of training. The
more typical range of infantry minor tactics and platoon and sections
standard operating procedures (SOPS) were rehearsed by platoon and section
commanders. All of whom were trying to second guess what would actually
come to pass in the not too distant fixture. An evacuation style of
operations was certainly in the forefront of everybody's mind, but there
remained a tangible sense that all contingencies needed to be covered.
Some very positive training
experiences were to come out of this period for the soldiers of Bravo
Company. For instance not many had seen up to thirteen Black Hawks in the
air at any one time. The Company eagerly snapped up opportunities to
practice contingency and operational helicopter loading as well as a
number of other techniques not usually available to soldiers of the
Parachute Battalion Group.
From a command perspective
this period was equally hectic. Throughout the time in Tindal the
operational plan was extremely fluid. It is not an exaggeration to suggest
that plans changed daily.
One brief aside from the
gruelling training program came in the form of a visit by the Minister for
Defence the Honourable Mr John Moore. The visit was complete with a press
entourage and some of the soldiers and Junior Non Commissioned Officers (JNCOs)
became temporary celebrities as their faces appeared on Australia's
national news programs. The where, why and when of the operation were all
well hidden and while the public at large were aware that some element of
the Army was on the move the fact that Bravo Company, 3 RAR, was leading
the way was not widely known.
As the situation in Dili
deteriorated, the operational concept grew to include a sea borne option.
In combination to the projected airhead at Dili airport it was considered
important that the option to create a sea head was also available from
Dili wharf. This would increase tactical options on the ground. This
requirement forced the splitting of Bravo Company. One element of the
Company was to move by air to Darwin in order for quick access to the
Royal Australian Navy's (RAN's) newest and fastest troopcarrying ship the
HMAS Jervis Bay. Meanwhile, the other half of B Company would remain in
Tindal to provide security for the airborne SPE should it be activated.
The latter group, that destined to remain behind in Tindal, was based on
Lieutenant Keith Lawton's Five Platoon. With him were the Recon patrols
and certain Combat Service Support (CSS) detachments. This was a tall
order for the young officer who was now to report directly to the JTF 504
commander as well as to his OC in Darwin. It was a job he did well. The
order to split Bravo Company was executed and on 7 September the Company
minus was flown, again under a blanket of secrecy, to RAAF Darwin.
Immediately after the
Company touched down at RAAF Darwin they were whisked away by bus towards
Robertson Barracks, the home of the Army's 1St Brigade. Such was the
secrecy of their arrival that the transport drivers were told to take
indirect routes to the barracks lest somebody conclude where and why the
Company was moving.
The Company was dispersed
throughout the 1st Brigade in its transit accommodation and settled in for
more waiting. Given the circumstances it was impossible to continue with
training but the Company did not have to suffer long before something
At this time the majority
of the Army, and Australians in general, had no idea how closely poised
Bravo Company was for a trip across the Timor Sea. The 1St Brigade
Officer's and Sergeant's Messes were much surprised to see the strange
appearance of these maroon beret wearing men. Interesting conversations
occurred at the time with most ending with an adamant denial by the
northern Brigade that anything was happening at all. Certainly nothing,
they maintained, would occur without their participation. Such denial
could not last indefinitely.
On 9 September a call came
from Major O'Leary to Major Grace which fired the Company Group in Darwin
into action. In a sleepy but excited haze the men mustered and boarded
trucks and buses bound for HMAS Jervis Bay. Plans were hastily drafted
between the Company headquarters, the Captain of the Jervis Bay and the
commander of a Navy Clearance Diver Team. Bravo Company moved off from the
pier at Darwin harbour without fanfare and under the cover of darkness
bound for the coast of East Timor on what looked like a Services Protected
Evacuation from Dili wharf.
The trip from Darwin to
Dili took approximately twenty four hours in the speedy catamaran. Life
aboard the ship provided some novel experiences for the paratroops. The
Jervis Bay was designed as a civilian ferry so while room was plentiful
and television screens were abundant sleeping areas were not. The ship
resembled a passenger aircraft more than a military vessel. Nonetheless,
the soldiers found their sleeping places under chairs and tables and began
to watch a ceaseless string of videos that did not stop until the trip was
over. While this was occurring orders were given, rules of engagement
scenarios played out and what rehearsals were possible were conducted. As
Indonesian territorial waters approached the level of anxiety grew.
This trip did not end as
was anticipated. Some few kilometres short of Indonesian waters the stand
down order was given and the Jervis Bay turned around and headed once
again back to Darwin. Some diplomatic manoeuvers and a number of other
issues caused the order to return to be given. Again, the Jervis Bay
pulled into Darwin in the middle of the night and the familiar buses were
waiting to return the Company to its temporary home at Robertson Barracks.
The second Bravo Company
component of the split JTF 504 remained in Tindal and continued to train
for a Services Protected Evacuation operation. SGT Polson and one of his
engineers were converted into a High Risk Search Team (HRST) and LT
Lawton's men worked diligently to ensure that their part of the operation
would be right.
Meanwhile, the Company
group in Darwin rested in its transit lines for only one day before things
began to happen again. The phone rang a second time with an order to
activate and once more the Company paraded itself and its equipment in
preparation for the move across the sea. The buses rolled into the I'
Brigade Transit Lines and moved the group once more onto the HMAS Jervis
Bay. With a rejuvenated sense of anticipation the Company embarked and
began to absorb the ship's selection of videos for the second time. On
this occasion the group made it to the edge of Indonesian territorial
waters before it paused.
Political and diplomatic
manoeuvring moved at a slower rate than the Company did. Around eight
hours were spent motionless in the middle of the ocean while the decision
was made back in Australia whether or not Bravo Company would continue its
journey. The coast of Timor was clearly and easily visible to everyone on
board at this time. The Company was so close and yet so far away as once
again the order came to stand down and return to Darwin. The news was
taken well but it was a bitter pill to swallow for men that had been on
the edge now for almost a month. The front gate of Robertson Barracks was
a familiar sight as Bravo Company returned to its pseudo home.
Despite an amount of
cynicism that was creeping into the soldiers it was only eighteen hours
after returning for the second time before a third order was given to
board the ship. The grumbling may have been more audible but the reaction
time was no slower as the subunit moved again from bus to ship. The well
rehearsed process was a smooth movement by now. Spirits were high as the
ship pulled away from Darwin for the third time for surely this had to be
the one to go all the way.
Again plans were fine tuned
and this time the concept was modified in order to land at an oil refinery
wharf to the west of the main Dili wharf. The refinery wharf was long and
narrow but this choice did nullify the fear that too many refugees would
be encountered at the original access point. Security was weighed up
against control as this plan was put forth. The Jervis Bay was to stop
short of the refinery jetty whilst the Navy's clearance divers ensured the
safety of the wharf. Once this was done the Company would provide a
perimeter of protection while the evacuees were processed and back loaded
to the ship.
During the trip Major Grace
and the Captain of the Jervis Bay made provision for weapons training and
a range was set up from the aft quarter of the vessel. It was a novel but
valuable experience. In many ways it seemed akin to file footage seen by
most of the soldiers of British servicemen doing a similar thing en route
to the Falkland Islands in 1982. Bravo Company readied itself as the
territorial limits of East Timor were reached but to everyone's chagrin
the ship again came to a stand still. Once more the coast could be seen
quite clearly when for the third time the request to continue was refused
and the ship headed back to Australia. Heavy hearts were heavier still
when during the return the Company was told that the operation was
actually proceeding, on a greatly reduced scale, utilising C 130 aircraft.
Worse still, the Bravo Company elements in Tindal were not part of it!
In the end the only one
member of B Company touched foreign soil. Word was received during the
move back to Darwin that the split Company, upon returning, would be re
united. Furthermore, the entire Battalion would soon move to Darwin. It
seemed that perhaps not all was lost for as SPITFIRE was concluding
something else and something bigger was only just beginning.
In the very last days of
JTF 405 and OPERATION SPITFIRE a rifle company from the l" Battalion,
The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) reinforced LT Lawton's platoon in
Tindal. This was to prove inconsequential and a little too late for on 15
September the detachment from Bravo Company joined the remainder of the
sub unit in Darwin. Bravo Company was stood down from OPERATION SPITFIRE
and JTF 405 was disbanded. At this time the remainder of the 3 RAR
Battalion group, less the gun line of A Field Battery, were themselves
preparing for deployment and gearing up for a move to Robertson Barracks
as part of a new task force. These moves were the first stirrings of
OPERATION WARDEN. Bravo Company only had time for a short breath before
joining the rest of the Battalion for the next step in the journey to East
OPERATION SPITFIRE was an
experience that Bravo Company will not quickly forget. The sub unit was
torn from Holsworthy on minimal notice and thrown into an unfamiliar
environment working with unfamiliar organisations. The pressure on the
Company from the outset was significant. False alarms and near misses
compounded the emotions of all. However, the men of the Company rose to
the challenge at all levels. The soldiers trained with a rarely seen
intensity despite being kept in the dark most of the time. They did not
complain. The officers and SNCOs were forced to operate well outside
established training regimes. They dealt with planning for real
contingencies with minimal information and in time frames that would be
considered unworkable in peacetime exercises. The fact that the Company
group did not physically stand on East Timorese soil should not be the
measure by which OP SPITFIRE should be judged. Had the order been given B
Company was ready to carry out its mission with commitment and
professionalism characteristics that were to become the Battalion's
trademark once a landing in East Timor was eventually made.
A year ago operational
experience was afar off dream for many of us. It was the culmination of
training, the test that would prove once and for all if we had what it
took. On the morning of the 27th of August 1999 Bravo Company, The 3rd
Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment took the first steps toward that
That morning they received
orders that would see them leaving their homes before the sun had set.
They would deploy to an unrevealed ion with an undisclosed mission to
return at an unspecified time. This was to begin the first deployment of
`Old Faithful' since Vietnam. The deployment would see the Battalion face
many diverse challenges and push us past our comfortable limits.
The following is a brief
account of the Battalion's time on operations. It will begin with Bravo
Company's call up for OPERATION SPITFIRE and continue through the
Battalion's deployment to OPERATION WARDEN and it's subsequent clearance
of Dili. It will move through the months spent on border patrols in the
west and operations in the Oeccussi Enclave. It will speak of 'Old
Faithful's' rapport with the people of East Timor and conclude with the
return to Australia and families.
At 0730h on the 27th of
August 1999, Bravo Company was recalled and informed that they would
depart that day to support the evacuation of Australian Nationals from
East Timor. The company quickly took stock of the situation and began the
final preparations for deployment. Men moved from point to point carrying
stores and filling in paperwork. An air of anticipation filled the
Battalion as it readied it's on line company to depart, countered to a
small extent by the cynicism of those who had done it all before only to
be stood down at the last minute. This attitude grew less as the hours
wore on; it was replaced by a quiet determination to be ready.
Bravo Company, as the on
line Parachute Company Group, had been placed on 48 hours notice to move.
In a mere seven and a half hours, from receiving it's orders, Bravo
Company had regrouped with its supporting elements and was driving out of
the Battalion gates. The trip to Richmond RAAF Base was a chance to issue
what orders they had or could think to give the men. The following day
Bravo Company arrived at Tindal RAAF Base and into a world of their own.
For the weeks that followed the Company and its attachments rehearsed
contingency plans. The Company focused on crowd control and gas training.
Superimposed on this training was the normal range of Infantry Minor
Tactics. It was a time characterised by a fluid environment in which
planning changed on a constant basis. All commanders were trying to second
guess what would occur in the not too distant fixture. An emphasis on
evacuation style operations was apparent, but in a definite belief that
all possible events be covered as fully as time allowed.
Throughout its training at
Tindal, Bravo Company maintained a shroud of secrecy, with contact home
closely monitored. It became very apparent to the men of Bravo Company
that OP SPITFIRE was not generally known by the public. Instead the news
stations continued to play footage of the Northern Battalions gearing up
while the real move continued quietly and without fanfare.
As the situation continued
to deteriorate in the East Timor capital of Dili, the plan changed shape
to include a sea borne option. In combination to the projected airhead at
Dili airport it was considered important that the option to create a sea
head was also available from Dili wharf. This requirement forced the
splitting of Bravo Company. One element of the Company was to move by air
to Darwin in order for quick access to the HMAS Jervis Bay. Meanwhile, the
other half of Bravo Company would remain in Tindal to provide security for
the airborne Service Protected Evacuation should it be activated. The
split occurred on 7 September, under a blanket of secrecy to the
everybody's mind was extent that vehicle routes were different and
indirect to Robertson Barracks.
The time spent at Robertson
Barracks was one of enforced inactivity regarding training, but the
situation and planning continued to change. On 9 September a call came
which fired the Company Group in Darwin into action. Bravo Company moved
off from the pier at Darwin harbour without display and under the cover of
darkness bound for the coast of East Timor on what looked like a Services
Protected Evacuation from Dili wharf.
Some few kilometres short
of Indonesian waters the stand down order was given and the Jervis Bay
turned around and headed once again back to Darwin. The phone rang a
second time with an order to activate. The coast of Timor was clearly and
easily visible to everyone on board at this time. The Company was so close
and yet so far away as once again the order came to stand down and return
to Darwin Despite an amount of cynicism that was creeping into the
soldiers it was only eighteen hours after returning for the second time
before a third order was given to board the ship. Spirits were high as the
ship pulled away from Darwin for the third time for surely this had to be
the one to go all the way. Once again Bravo Company was to come within
sight of the East Timor coastline before being stood down.
OP SPITFIRE concluded
without a single Bravo Company soldier touching foreign soil. The Company
moved back into Darwin with word that the Battalion would regroup at
Robertson Barracks for further operations. It was some consolation to the
men that had so many false starts to realise something bigger was about to
The Battalion regrouped in
Darwin and set about chasing information and second guessing the
situation. On the afternoon of 17 September the Commanding Officer briefed
his Company commanders on OPERATION WARDEN and outlined the sub unit tasks
once a landing in Dili had been made. Maps were issued; along with as much
up to date intelligence and photographs of Dili as the unit could muster.
Alpha Company was tasked to
conduct a break out from the wharf area into an interim AO before moving
out and occupying a Company TAOR. Charlie Company was to move on to their
own TAOR to establish headquarters and patrol base locations before
beginning sustained security operations and initiating a patrolling
program. Bravo Company's task was to advance to and secure the United
Nations Compound to the south of the city. The Company would then occupy
its TAOR. Support Company was to provide defence of BHQ, and other core
specific tasks as they arose.
At 1815hrs on 20 September
1999, after the mammoth task of loading a Battalion and its stores had
been achieved at last, 3 RAR was underway from the port of Darwin. Before
the unit left Robertson Barracks it had paraded and been farewelled by the
Prime Minister in a short but significant parade. Once on board the men
talked and joked with the bravado of warriors going to war, sometime
during that long night the decks became quiet as men settled down and
contemplated what lay ahead. Most were awake for the movies `Saving
Private Ryan' and `The Odd Angry Shot'.
Both the HMAS Jervis Bay
and HMAS Tobruk steamed northwards throughout the night. By sunrise on 21
September 1999, both vessels lay off the entrance to Dili harbour. Men
scrambled for position at the windows to catch their first glimpse of
Dili. It is a sight that none will forget; A town destroyed; the dock was
filled with refugees and the stuff of their former lives; the air was full
of ash and death. As the men moved into the town, a row of bullet holes
and blood stains acted as a timely reminder of the violence which
surrounded them. Soldiers scanned their arcs constantly looking for
something out of the ordinary when everything looked out of the ordinary.
Companies patrolled into the TAOR's and quickly established Company Patrol
Bases. The evening was spent hardening the positions and the night was
spent growing used to the noises of Dili.
The entire area was a
powder keg as TNI units were still occupying this section of Dili.
Relations were strained to say the least. There were continued threatening
gestures on their part and angry slogans were painted on walls. The
Battalion consolidated its position and Companies immediately sent
Platoons and Section strength patrols throughout their areas of
The 23 September saw TNI
begin the first reluctant gestures of withdrawal from the capital, handing
the responsibility for order over to INTERFET. On 24 September, a
Battalion level operation was carried out. It was a cordon and search in
Dili of moderate success. It was conducted in spite of an active TNI
presence inside of the cordoned area and demonstrated the force and
ability to concentrate that force at anytime, anywhere in the TAOR which
the Battalion had at its disposal.
In the next few days the
rifle Companies continued to patrol in their TAOR's and carried out a
number of cordon and search operations themselves. These and other
activities were a considerable success and the sub units began to find
that most of their tactical intelligence and weapon finds originated from
information offered by the locals. Even at this early stage the value of
winning over the civilian population was becoming evident. This phase of
the occupation of Dili was characterised by confiscations of weapons.
Sunrise on Kapyong Day
2000, Batugade East Timor. For the majority of soldiers in East Timor, it
was a day that began as any other. For the volunteers of Pegasus Platoon
3RAR, under command 5/7RAR, the significance of Kapyong day could not be
The platoon assembled on
the mud, with the maroon winged parachute flag flying high in the early
morning breeze. We stood in silence, a look of pride and determination on
the faces of the men, as the bagpipes played Our Director
It was a significant day
for a variety of reasons. For all present it was a chance to reflect on
the incredible feats of soldiers past, and put our modest achievements
into context. For many members in the platoon it marked almost eight
months active service in East Timor, putting them among the longest
serving members in the campaign. It gave us the motivation to maintain our
high standards, and to fiercely guard the reputation 3RAR had maintained
in East Timor of serving with distinction. Lastly, our thoughts turned to
home and the rest of the Battalion, who would be commemorating this day in
Pegasus Platoon was formed
on the 12 February 2000, at Government House, Dili. While the rest of the
Battalion was cleaning equipment and making plans for their holiday,
thirty men were planning for another two and a half month stay in country.
The compound at Tonibibi
was an old shopping area. After months of rain combined with ASLAV's and
APC's, the area more closely resembled a mud bath. CPL Newson (Newie) and
LCPL Ried (Chippa) had just enough time to stow their Ech bags before
departing for an OP task. Meanwhile CPL Scott (Scotty) and LCPL Currey (Cuz)
took over a VCP task at the Nunura Bridge. It is important to note that
the position at Nunura Bridge was to change dramatically after suggestions
from Scotty and his section. Lastly, CPL Slavin (Slav) and PTE Robinson (Robbo).
Joined PHQ at the compound.
The month at Tonibibi was
challenging with the sections changing tasks every two or three days, all
doing VCP's, OP's, patrol tasks and security. One task the soldiers will
not forget is Junction Point Charlie. A mosquito infested swamp situated
on the side of the river marking the border with West Timor. It was
situated opposite a TNI post and enabled us to monitor the Tonibibi
markets, a short walk north of the position. The market was a trading area
on the border, set up by the locals to allow West and East Timor merchants
to buy and sell goods. The items bought and sold ranging from tobacco to
motor cycle parts. Our job was to provide security to the market which
started at sunrise and ended at around seven in the morning. The trading
took place on the bank of the river on the West Timor side. The Timorese
often braving the rapid running water to carry goods across. The situation
was always tense, the militia often turning up on the Western side of the
border and scaring the locals, resulting in a mad rush back across the
border. This was always a spectacular sight as we usually had over three
thousand locals, and we were never more than section strength on the
Leaving the mud behind in
March we moved again at the start of April, north of Balibo to Batugade.
After doing local patrols for a week by day and night, we departed by
helicopter for a border patrol. After more than a month of static tasks
and short patrols, it was a welcome change. The patrol took a week and
involved a relocation and resupply by helicopter. By moving around our AO
on foot, the locals were often surprised to see us. They had been used to
hearing the APC's before seeing Australian soldiers. Getting out and
mixing with the locals is what we did best in East
Following the patrol we
were moved down to the "Beach Hut", this was a combination of
VCP's and Border checkpoints both on the border and just over a kilometre
inland. The road running from Batugade, along the coast into West Timor,
was and still is the main crossing point for East Timorese wishing to come
back to East Timor. It is also the area where the reunion visit occurs.
Every week, this event attracts thousands of East and West Timorese into a
tightly controlled area. The Australians are responsible for the outer
security and the Portuguese responsible for the inner security. This was
an often challenging and busy task.
From Batugade we moved to
Dili and spent just over a week cleaning our equipment and making a quiet
entry back into Australia. The men of Pegasus Platoon missed the fanfare
and celebration of our return home, we didn't have a ticker tape parade
and there was no beer and two up on ANZAC day. In fact on the trip home
our C 130, which was taking us from Dili to Sydney, broke down and we
spent the night in Townsville. However, we were volunteers, and nobody in
the platoon ever complained or felt that he was missing out.
We won't forget the endless
games of five hundred with Lynchie, Chippa, Cuz, Barra, Robbo, Slav and
Woodsy. The tackle bet by Curls and Dietzy. The "Big Sister"
fruit cake challenge undertaken by Staffy. Wilso and Jed having endless
UFC match offs. Barra disappearing into mud and sand so that only his UN
beret was left on the surface. Nath, Wilso, Jason, Dietzy, Franko and
Chippa's endless conversations about their ladies at the Battalion Ball.
Rotten always putting his foot in it, but coming up trumps by giving an
excellent presentation on the Battle of Kapyong. Cooky and Staffy always
finding somewhere to workout. Scotties endless communications with his
missus, and always having all the gear. Carlo, always driving someone
somewhere. SGT Crowther (Crowie) and his innovative ideas for improving
our positions. Gary good guy, Waitie, Wazza, Kenny, Joel and the whole
platoon for working their guts out when needed and for having a good time
when they could.
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