Random Analytica

Random thoughts, charts, infographics & analysis. Not in that order

22. Mefloquine Dispatches: Mil Mi-24, 27th March 1997

Cabinet papers are a source that I have been meaning to research.

Using 1998/99 cabinet papers Andrew Probyn from the Australian Broadcasting Commission has put together this piece on the fate of the Russian gunships owned by the Sandline mercenaries that we might have faced if we had of been deployed on the 22nd March 1997. Secrets of how Russian attack helicopters came to Australia revealed 20 years later. Extract:

The $50 million deal, signed in January 1997 to the horror of the then Howard government, would have seen foreign mercenaries flown in to destroy the Bougainville rebellion, using second-hand military equipment.

But two months later, on March 27, 1997, Australia agreed to a request from the PNG government to accept custody of the gear bought by PNG from Sandline.

“The PNG government was concerned about the delivery of the equipment to PNG in the uncertain political circumstance that prevailed at the time,” then defence minister John Moore wrote in his confidential cabinet submission.

At the time of the controversial purchase the PNG armed forces had a helicopter fleet consisting of five Bell UH-1 Iroquois of which only one was serviceable.

It also reaffirms an important date for me. I remember being stood down after three-days, which would have been the 24th March 1997. The PNG Prime Minister (Chan) had left parliament due to massive protests to his rule during those three days. The Australian Government then agreed to take the Russian helicopters (2x Mil Mi-24 and 2x Mi-8 transports) on the 27th March 1997 as the PNG Parliament began to sort out the mess.

There was also a cache of other fixed wing aircraft that Sandline had purchased and the PNG government kept but were never used in combat.

I now wonder what happened to those planes?

Mil Mi-24 -2

Picture: The Drive

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

Random Analytica: Samoa Measles Outbreak (2019)

The Samoan Government declared a State of Emergency on the 15th November 2019 and has subsequently extended that period until the 29th December. Via the Samoan Government. National Measles Response and Recovery Appeal 6 December 2019. Excerpt:

The Samoa Ministry of Health declared a national measles outbreak on 16 October 2019. There is widespread community transmission, with the outbreak strain the same as that causing the current outbreak in New Zealand. The Government of Samoa declared a state of emergency on 15 November 2019. Under the new Orders of the State of Emergency the Government has made vaccination mandatory for priority groups. Samoa activated its National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) on 15 November which meets daily to coordinate the emergency response and provides updates on the situation. Under the national order, various restrictions have been implemented including limitations on inter-island travel for all individuals below 19 years of age; temporary closure of schools, and strongly advising children not to attend public gatherings or attending any medical facility, unless they require medical attention. Immunised pregnant women are further restricted from attending their place of employment (public and private sector).

Infographic updated with data to 24th December 2019 via @samoagovt.

191224_Infographic_SamoaMeasles

21. Mefloquine Dispatches: Mindfulness, 5th December 2019

We sit across from each other. A small coffee table and my phone separate us. My psychologist will be helping me make this difficult call. I have spent the best part of a year working towards this point. I’m emotionally attached to this phone-call.

Today we are using a combination of mindfulness and a safe-place to ensure I stay calm. We reinforce my safe space with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

I make the call.

The conversation takes approximately 10-minutes. For me I am relating an incident that occurred almost 23-years ago. Yet it feels like it was just months previously. That’s just the amnesia. I go through the details of the incident. I get an acknowledgement and a contact person to reach out to.

We finalise the call and move over to the coffee machine so I can regather.

The emotion and the adrenaline have started to kick in. My jaw tightens. As does my chest. My voice wavers. My hands start to shake. My psychologist picks up on this straight away. He wants to bring me back down immediately.

We return to our chairs.

“I’ve got this” I say.

I close my eyes. I control my breathing which has a ragged edge to it. I imagine my safe-place. I focus entirely on my breathing.

I take an initial deep breath.

I focus on my safe-place.

A second deep breath.

Safe-place.

A third deeper breath.

I open my eyes.

I look at my psychologist. I grin. My jaw has relaxed. My shaking has disappeared. My breathing has normalised.

It took less than a minute. Rather than kick-off I am calm. We are both impressed by my progress. Just weeks before I would have been raging.

In the coming months there will be more difficult phone calls. Difficult situations. Chance encounters which I cannot control.

Practicing mindfulness is not only helping me cope with old trauma and new memories it is allowing me to operate in the real world.

One breath at a time.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

20. Mefloquine Dispatches: 1800 MEFLOQUINE, 10th May 2019

I am at the RSL sub-branch. We sit in the small office, my Advocate and I awaiting our coffees from the café next door. We chat about things that are going on in our lives. It is one of our little rituals.

The coffees arrive.

L* (my Advocate) thinks we should ring the 1800-MEFLOQUINE number today before we put in any paperwork. Mefloquine, unlike other defence related injuries has its own helpline.

I don’t handle calls to the DVA very well but L* is there to do the talking so I agree.

We call 1800-MEFLOQUINE.

The young lady who answers the phone is professional, personable, helpful but doesn’t know anything about mefloquine.

L* asks if we have a claim that is mefloquine related is there a fast-track process and is there someone available to talk us through it.

We are told that the 1800-MEFLOQUINE number is now going through to the main contact line and there are no specialists available to talk to. It seems the call-line is about to be  archived due to a lack of need.

Another frustration. L* and I put some of the paperwork through anyway. Hopefully we can get it in time to be amongst the Veterans receiving the anti-malarial health checks which we are told by the Minister will be available in July.

Several frustrating months later I am happy to report that the 1800-MEFLOQUINE number is back up and running. Also there is another commitment to the anti-malarial health checks.

Not in July 2019 as promised.

In 2020.

That aside, we are starting to make some progress. I’ll be ringing 1800-MEFLOQUINE this Thursday with a witness to formally report mefloquine exposure on Operation BARITONE..

Let’s see how they go the second time around.

191201_iLetter_DChester_Pg1of2191201_iLetter_DChester_Pg2of2

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

19. Mefloquine Dispatches: Lord Dannatt, 28th November 2019

Over the weekend I come across a story from Britain.

Lord Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff in the UK between 2006 and 2009, warns of a suicide epidemic amongst veterans during a visit to the Portsmouth-based military support group Forgotten Veterans UK.

During his visit he talks about the cost effectiveness of the work being undertaken by the charity as well as  how the government of the day and charities should be doing more. Via The News. Former British Army boss brands UK’s veteran suicide crisis the ‘epidemic of our time’. Excerpt:

Britain’s veteran suicide crisis has been branded part of the ‘epidemic of our time’ by the former head of the British Army, who admitted more needs to be done to stop traumatised troops from killing themselves.

General Lord Richard Dannatt admitted he was appalled by the number of people taking their lives in the UK and described the situation as a ‘tragedy’.

Lord Dannatt has come up on my radar previously. Not because he took mefloquine but because he refused it on health grounds. Via The Guardian. Ex-army chief apologises to troops over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:

Lord Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff between 2006 and 2009, told BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme he would not take the drug because of his son’s experience with it.

Dannatt said his son Bertie had suffered mental health problems after taking two doses of Lariam before visiting Africa in the late 1990s. He was not in the armed forces at the time but had been prescribed the drug by his father’s army doctor.

He is currently the highest ranking officer on record to refuse mefloquine. Mefloquine is a drug that is known to increase the chance of suicide amongst veterans.

Oh, the hypocrisy of old Generals.

191128_Image_LDannatt

Picture: Habibur Rahman (via The News)

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

 

18. Mefloquine Dispatches: Royal Commission, 2020

According to N* when I first worked out what happened to me back in 1997 I was in shock for weeks.

It took me just a few hours on a lazy afternoon in February to work it all out. On a white board at the local RSL sub-branch listening to Enigma. I called it my ‘Wacky Board’. I do more memory work that night. Found some evidence to back the memories. Get new memories.

I do the due diligence and the research. Worked out the timelines, identified the opportunities missed. Even found the exposure documented in legacy Red Cross records.

By the time I was reasonably sure that at least a company of us had been exposed I was getting very sick. My rage had dissipated. Replaced by numbness. Numbness was replaced by bitterness, grief and anger. Anger then became psychosis.

I got myself admitted three days later. As I sat in the mental health unit I waited for someone from the Army to come and interview me. Times, dates, places. Whatever I could remember.

Why me, I said? Why the fuck was it left to me to clean this up? It’s not like I owed the Army any favours. They had done a pretty good job of throwing me under a bus in the late 90s. Then the DVA piled on. It was a free-for-all.

As I await a visit from someone in authority I gather more evidence.

Waiting, waiting, waiting …

No one came to visit me in hospital in March.

Or April.

I make myself sick filling out DVA paperwork in May/June. My two claims are filled with evidence supporting my mefloquine exposure.

Hurry up and wait some more …

June, July and August go by.

By September I think the DVA and the Army have forgotten me. My suspicions are confirmed when I ring my Social Worker at the DVA and she can’t even remember my name.

This should have been sorted months ago. I go bezerk again. Wind up back in hospital.

When I get out I try to get the message out without filters.

I try the fourth estate again. They are too busy getting raided by the AFP to want to hear my complex little story.

I tell the Minister. He doesn’t even bother to get back to me.

I write laments to my past to raise an eyebrow. Nothing. They start angry but as the months go by they soften. I soften. If any blame is due on this strategy it is because of my lack of writing ability, not about the story itself.

It’s now November.

The DVA get back to me with a rehabilitation plan. It doesn’t mention mefloquine. 

In desperation I reach out to the Senate Committee that was supposed to investigate this back in 2018. They have limited powers now but will get back to me. When they do get back to me they encourage me to follow-up on my suppressed FOI requests as they too await a response from the DVA.

I’ve given it my all this year to try and get the message out. To the infantry company. To my two mates who surely boarded those planes with me back in 97. I wish I knew who it was but I cannot remember. 

It doesn’t matter anymore. This matter needs to be included in the Royal Commission into Veteran Suicides.

I’m so tired of excuses.

It shouldn’t have been this hard.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

17. Mefloquine Dispatches: RQ19/03024 #RightToKnow, 21st November 2019

It was all going so well.

AHQ had found some documents. Some had been destroyed. Just needed to be declassified.

As the requests for extensions came through I accepted them. It has always been my hope that Army might finally wake up to this and take over. Get the message out.

Then the door slammed.

I had been refused several times before this. Even got a single document a few months back. This time the letter is different. More official. Even has a new number. RQ19/03024.

No more information. No reason really.

They have made Operation BARITONE a state secret.

I just watched Chernobyl with my 14-year old son.

When did we become the Soviet Union?

#RightToKnow

191121_iLetter_OAIC_Refused_Pg1of3191121_iLetter_OAIC_Refused_Pg2of3

 

UPDATES

They have destroyed most of the documents. The ones they did find I cannot read because it remains classified. No mention of mefloquine which is strange because I’ve got Red Cross records that confirm it. Which makes me thinks only the Company Group got the Mefloquine but the main battle group would have received a Mefloquine alternative.

I have a simple question then.

In late March 1997 was TAFENQUINE the anti-malarial being considered for the occupation of PNG commencing with a Company Group deployment to secure the Embassy in Port Moresby?

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

16. Mefloquine Dispatches: Caravaggio, October 2012

It is 2012.

I am starting to get noticeably sick but I don’t know what from. Not all the physical symptoms have arrived. My tinnitus was always present but mild. I put the vertigo down to heat, bad ankles or alcohol. My teeth and gums are still good. My face hasn’t gone red as yet. The fine tremor in my hands hasn’t started. I spasm in my sleep but the terror of having been given epilepsy is in my future.

The black dog never goes away. It has been with me for decades. It was accepted by the Army although they blame me for its occurrence. Over the years my family has become inured to its silent damage. My marriage hasn’t collapsed but the writing is on the wall.

I am watching the new Simon Schama series the Power of Art. We get to the episode dedicated to the life and works of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio.

I don’t know the first thing about Caravaggio. Some people are turned away from him. He is unstable yet he has a power to turn art into majesty. He pioneers the art form of chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and shadow. He is constantly in trouble. He drinks too much, prefers to sleep in cheap rooms and hang out with his cronies, who are little more than local bully-boys.

His art reeks of the dirt, sweat and blood of everyday life. In Young Sick Bacchus he makes God human. The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew is portrayed as the brutal murder it would have been. The victim lying on the floor on the cusp of shadows, his assailant highlighted with blade in hand ready to finish the killing. It’s all too real for the Catholic Church.

Caravaggio kills a man in 1606 in a duel but it is actually little more than a cold blooded murder. He is exiled and tries to paint his way out of trouble. In a cruel twist of fate he is pardoned but imprisoned on his way home. He gets out of his prison but misses his boat. He dies walking back to Rome with the painting of David with the Head of Goliath. It is a gift for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the Prince of the Catholic Church who has pardoned him.

I am captured by this painting. Caravaggio is Goliath. He has painted himself as a villain. The young David is surrounded by light. I finally get art because I see an artist I understand. I totally get Caravaggio. It helps explain what is going wrong in my head.

I too am Goliath. 

As Simon Schama noted in his documentary:

In Caravaggio’s time it was believed that artists were given their talent by God to bring beauty to the world and to put mortal creatures in touch with their higher selves or souls. Caravaggio never did anything the way it was supposed to be done.

In this painting of the victory of virtue over evil it’s supposed to be David who is the centre of attention, but have you ever seen a less jubilant victory? On his sword is inscribed “Humilitus Occideit Superbium”, that is, humility conquers pride. This is the battle that has been fought out inside Caravaggio’s head between the two sides of the painter that are portrayed here.

For me the power of Caravaggio’s art is the power of truth, not least about ourselves. If we are ever to hope for redemption we have to begin with the recognition that in all of us the Goliath competes with the David.”

1210_DavidWithTheHeadOfGoliath

Image: David with the Head of Goliath (1601)

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

15. Mefloquine Dispatches: Suicide Prevention, early 1990

It is early 1990. I’m not sure of the exact date but I’m a member of a platoon of freshly minted recruits at 1RTB, the 1st Recruit Training Battalion.

It is starting to get cold because we are shivering through our ‘greens’. A ‘Secco’ or Section Commander calls out the names in the platoon. We yell out our presence. He marks his role.

We have been running PT for a while by this stage. The blokes who have made it this far don’t fall out on a whim or because they aren’t fit enough. We don’t stumble over each other as much as we try to run in step. Our fitness is steadily improving.

We have our webbing on. Today we will be introduced to the old art of bayonet fighting. SLR’s. Self Loading Rifles with pointy knives at the end. We are quietly excited.

We start marching. After a time we start running in step. As we are running along one of the section commanders points over to a set of trees.

“Gentlemen, over there is a tree. In that tree a recruit decided to hang himself. Let me be very clear. You are not to hang yourself. Hanging yourself will create a shit-storm of paperwork. I’ll have to fill out paperwork, Sergeant K* will have to fill out paperwork, the officers will have to fill out paperwork…”

He has run forward of the platoon and then spun around so as to face the running soldiers.

“I fucking hate paperwork”.

We all look at the tree. We look at the Corporal. He is grinning.

“So don’t fucking hang yourself”… he pauses … “Yes, Corporal” he puts it to us like a question that must be answered. It is not a request.

We scream out “Yes, Corporal”.

It is not loud enough. “I CAN’T FUCKING HEAR YOU LOT” the Corporal yells back at us. His face has turned red.

“YES, CORPORAL”. Our scream echoes across the training grounds.

“BETTER”. He turns around and gets back into step near the front of the platoon.

The tree falls behind us.

It is 1990 and we have just been given our first suicide prevention lesson by the Australian Army.

Twenty-four years later I will tie my own noose. But that is in the future.

 

I don’t usually sign petitions. I’m not a big fan of Royal Commissions either. That said I fully support a Royal Commission into Veteran Suicides.

It’s time.

You too can sign here at change.org.

191106_Picture_SuicidePetition

Image: change.org

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

14. Mefloquine Dispatches: SGADF, 26th September 2019

One more hill, Digger… One more hill

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.