Random Analytica

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

Tag: Army

Mefloquine Dispatches: An Index

From February 2019 to February 2020 as my amnesia started to lift I took the time to write down some of my memories and experiences as a series of short stories.

It might end up as a book, it might not.

In the meantime here is an index in order of when they were written.

  1. Mefloquine Dispatches: The First Asylum, 1997 (the story is at the end)
  2. Mefloquine Dispatches: My Daughter, 2016
  3. Mefloquine Dispatches: Raven, 1990s
  4. Mefloquine Dispatches: Harley Quinn, 1997
  5. Mefloquine Dispatches: @NAB, 20th March 2019
  6. Mefloquine Dispatches: @WHO, 8th August 1989
  7. Mefloquine Dispatches: Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos, 11th March 2006
  8. Mefloquine Dispatches: Dr Pepper 2.2. 2011 & 1992
  9. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Joker, 1997 & 2019
  10. Mefloquine Dispatches: Acceptance, 2019
  11. Mefloquine Dispatches: Full Bloom, 2012
  12. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Claremont Serial Killings, April 1997
  13. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs, 2000
  14. Mefloquine Dispatches: SGADF, 26th September 2019
  15. Mefloquine Dispatches: Suicide Prevention, early 1990
  16. Mefloquine Dispatches: Caravaggio, October 2012
  17. Mefloquine Dispatches: RQ19/03024 #RightToKnow, 21st November 2019
  18. Mefloquine Dispatches: Royal Commission, 2020
  19. Mefloquine Dispatches: Lord Dannatt, 28th November 2019
  20. Mefloquine Dispatches: 1800 MEFLOQUINE, 10th May 2019
  21. Mefloquine Dispatches: Mindfulness, 5th December 2019
  22. Mefloquine Dispatches: Mil Mi-24, 27th March 1997
  23. Mefloquine Dispatches: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, 28th February 2020

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.

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.

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

It took me seven months to prove that I had probably been given Mefloquine back in 1997. Good enough for the SGADF anyways.

Not bad considering when I first requested information from Army Headquarters about my involvement in that Operation I was told I was never on it.

It has come at a real cost.

My health has noticeably deteriorated.

Oh, and I went insane twice. With another two months in the year to go this is a worrisome trend. N* has told me I only really kick-off every twelve to eighteen months. We started dating in 1999. I’m putting it down to the DVA process. Hoping it will get easier in the second year of dealing with them again.

On that note I signed off on my DVA approved rehabilitation plan today. It stipulates Bi-Polar, PTSD and Psoriasis as medical conditions.

I haven’t been diagnosed with Bi-Polar. Nor schizophrenia as yet. Both Repatriation Medical Authority accepted conditions of mefloquine exposure. I certainly haven’t claimed for them.

On the other hand, there is no mention of mefloquine even after the SGADF signed off on it.

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.

13. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs, 2000

I make the call. It is a Friday afternoon. Late but not yet knock off time.

I’m trying to get through to my Delegate. The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs has assigned me a delegate to investigate my claim for Depression. When my mates find out about this they avoid me. I’ve largely disconnected from the military by this time. The Army does not talk about mental health in 2000.

I’ve been trying to get help. The screams that I hear at night as I go to sleep don’t make any sense. I’ve been through my military documents, then my medical documents. Like the Army I miss the deployment and the omission. Six lines and a sign-off hastily written on the back of another soldier as we race on toward the Hercules readying for take-off.

I am paying for my own psychiatrist. He is expensive but wants to do more work. I have to work to keep a roof over my head. I’m selling my house to fund it all. There is no Non-Liability Health Care in 2000. There is no care once you leave the Army even if you can hear the screaming. You have to fight and scrap for every bit of assistance. The process is not just brutal, it’s a fucking meat-grinder. It has been chewing up sailors, soldiers and aircrew since 1976.

A man answers the Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs phone line. It is not my delegate.

“Can I get through to G* please”.

“No mate, everyone has gone home for the day”.

“Ok, I’ll call back next week then”. I am still of the opinion that government departments like this are designed to serve people like me.

“Mate, don’t bother. I know who you are. You have been ringing all the time. Your claim has been dismissed. There is nothing wrong with you. You can try to appeal it but your just bunging it on. We know your type”.

With that he hangs up the phone.

I don’t call back. The door has been shut firmly in may face. It will take me nearly two decades to regain the courage to start the DVA process again.

000313_Letter_CDVA_Rejection

 

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.

12. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Claremont Serial Killings, April 1997

We look down at the near century old corpse. We all laugh. The beret’d Sergeant tells us to shut the fuck up and concentrate. At the bottom of the pit lays the skeleton of the previous occupant. A cheap burial perhaps? The wood has mostly crumbled into dust. It’s been 99-years and they are getting moved on. The coffin lowers into the six-foot hole with a quiet concentration. Later that day we will lower the corpse of my very good mate. It is both a moment of gravitas and levity.

There are seven of us. Six Other Ranks (ORs) and a Sergeant. The Sergeant and four of the ORs are from the Regiment. Two Signal blue from Townsville. Might have been an even number of beret’d and Signal blue? We all know each other or are known to each other. A good set of blokes. It is an official burial with a catafalque party in Perth, WA.

We finish the practice session.

On the return to Campbell Barracks one of the Boys is reading the paper. In the pages are the latest updates on the third murder. A serial killer was stalking the streets of Perth. Three girls. All similar. Young. Good sorts. The first two in 2016 then a big gap until last month. No idea who was murdering them.

One of the Boys tells us that the WA ‘coppers’ have visited the Barracks recently. They haven’t ruled out it might have been a soldier who was knocking off the women. Just a friendly interview at this stage just to rule the Regiment out of it.

Opinions rattle and roll around the bus. It’s good banter and it takes our mind off things.

I rattle off a quick-fire set of statistics. I don’t yet know it but my brain has changed in the last month and I am now recalling information differently than before the MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. At the end I opinion that it was highly unlikely for a Regiment guy to be the killer because most US serial killers historically kill after they leave the services. Not always, but mostly. Think Jeffrey Dahmer. I read a lot of criminal investigation books in those days.

Everyone is impressed with our wisdom until the Sergeant comments out of the side of his mouth.

“Fuck off you idiots”.

We all laugh. Another moment of levity before the tension of the day.

To the Lost.

191021_Image_TheWA_ClaremontKillings

Image: The West Australian

 

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.

8. Mefloquine Dispatches: Dr Pepper 2.2. 2011 & 1992

This mefloquine memory kicked off in 07’. Then again in 11’ and most recently in early October 19’. 

I don’t keep more than a hundred photos or trophies from my decade of soldiering. Especially in the 1990s when photo’s meant going to a Kodak shop and paying for them to be printed up. Photos are expensive. When I deploy with the ODF [Operational Deployment Force] to the USS Tarawa in 1992 I’m glad that they are handing out brochures as we board in Freemantle. I stow it away in my pack somewhere. It survives long enough to be added to my 1992 photos. I look at it every couple of years and some memories come back.

The first real memory hook is actually a book. We have a bookshelf at Mincom for people to add or to take away as they please. The consultants at Mincom travel the world. A lot of them are ex-AJs [Army Jerks]. We are all still readers in 2006. I feel at home at Mincom. I spend almost five years with them.

Although the first book in the series was written in 2004 I happen across World at War 2.1: Weapons of Choice in early November and finish it by the 11th November 2006. I buy the third book outright at an airport somewhere. The series was that good. I finish the third book on the 5th January 2007. I keep notes on each fictional book I read. I count the dead. John Birmingham writes ‘splodey’ books. War. Fast paced. Easy to read on planes.

John Birmingham is talking about Gatling defence systems in the first book. Ceramic bullets. Next generation shit. It reminds me of the Gatling defence system I see on the USS Tarawa. No drones yet. The missile they shoot down is towed behind what looks to be a private jet. It’s impressive. A rip of bullets shreds the missile to pieces in seconds. They fall into the sea. Everyone on the Australian side is impressed. We don’t have that level of protection as yet. I’m hope we do now.

I relate the story to the author in 2011. He talks about the importance of having strong female characters in his speech during his government funded book tour. After dinner, we are both telling our little war stories over a whisky in Canberra in the same pub. He has an ability to both talk and to listen. I’m a total nerd after I get out. I wonder what we talk about in our mild alcoholic daze hours later. Certainly ceramic bullets. I’m fascinated by the new technology that our Army is getting these days. He is fine company.

1111 - John Birmingham (1)

The mefloquine memory I got in early October 19′ was of a different story. I was down the corner store looking for a Pepsi Max. They have moved the store around to limit shoplifting. Where the Pepsi’s once were are now Dr Peppers. I remember my first Dr Pepper. It was in the Recreation Room on the USS Tarawa.

The ship is so big it has its own PX store. We all buy souvenirs. I buy a pair of Oakley’s which I’ll never wear. My best friend and I play the old-school arcade games. The HMAS Tobruk has nothing like this. We watch the US Military news channel in the small cinema. I ask M* would he like a softdrink. I have a pocket full of quarters ready to go. I get him a Mountain Dew. I get myself a Dr Pepper.

As it turns out Dr Pepper is disgusting. Too much corn syrup I think. I prefer the Mountain Dew. M* agrees to swap. The news channel bores us so we go back to the couple of older arcade games the ship has. We chat with the Marines. I always think fondly of Marines after this trip. Marines are awesome. These guys have just recently sailed from Kuwait.

M* and I start chatting with another group of Marines. They are amazed that ‘In Living Color’ is one of our favourite shows. White guys shouldn’t like that sort of humour but we do. Australians are pretty cool too. One of them offers to buy us a round of soft-drinks.

“Don’t make it Dr Pepper mate, that stuff will kill you”, I say.

Everybody laughs. The Yanks love our accent.

ddmm1992_Brochure_USMC_USSTarawa

 

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.