Random Analytica

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

Tag: Army

49. Mefloquine Dispatches: Peacetime in PNG (11th January 2023)

Reflecting the frustration at the treatment of veterans exposed to mefloquine my psychologist reached out to Richard Marles, the recently appointed Minister for Defence and Deputy PM and asked a question about Operation Baritone (March 1997).

The member of Richard Marles staff who responded might be unaware of the Company Group (3/97) that redeployed from Shoalwater Bay to Townsville at short notice. He wouldn’t know about the late-night review of your will and the death photo taken in the old hospital block. Nor blood pressure checks and the RMO signing off on your trip to war on the soldiers back in front of you. Picking up your seven magazines. Loading a pouch full of M26s. Inoculations in front of the Hercules. Lariam tablets being passed man-to-man. Briefings which talk about the rioting, the PNGDF in mutiny, South African mercenaries, Rascals, and the possibility of heavy casualties. The smell of excitement and fear as the clock moves from 24hrs Notice-To-Move (NTM) to 12hrs NTM. It would have been better than the Wild Bunch.

This message shouldn’t be coming from me. You should have been contacted as part of the Use of the Quinoline anti-malarial drugs Mefloquine and Tafenoquine in the Australian Defence Force investigation in 2018. In fact, members from 3 RAR were initially contacted by the Department of Veterans Affairs in relation to a 1996 deployment to Vanuatu. It was quickly shut down and muffled.

If you are reading the bad news here, I’m sorry if you are getting the message from me.

The Butchers Bill – Company Group 3/97

If you redeployed with the Company Group from Shoalwater Bay at the end of Exercise Tasman Thrust 97 and ended up waiting for the Hercules at Garbutt while we were staging, then you were given a Mefloquine Loading Dose (MLD). Don’t bother checking your medical records as it wasn’t written down. I had to prove my exposure via Red Cross records (I basically caught a lucky break).

Here is how you can check if you were given a Mefloquine Loading Dose as part of Company Group 3/97. If you got typhoid on the 22nd of March 1997 then you got an MLD as well. I distinctly remember getting 3-4 injections behind those planes. Check your vaccination records. Here is a personal example.

Battalion Group – 1 RAR

I was at Garbutt and had no visibility of this. However, the Australian Government decided to activate the Battalion Group. Once activated it is very likely the RMOs started the vaccination process including anti-malarial treatments. I’d be checking your medical records as well.

For confirmation here is Tony Wright’s 20th anniversary write up of the Sandline Affair. Via the Sydney Morning Herald (circa 2019). From the Archives: Gunpoint in PNG; mercenaries evacuated. Excerpt:

The Federal Government placed a crack Army battalion on heightened alert in a contingency plan to evacuate 12,000 Australian citizens from Papua New Guinea as rebel troops bundled the remaining mercenaries out of the country.

Late last night, 55 mercenaries were put on a chartered Air Niugini jet to Hong Kong.

The confrontation between PNG’s rebellious defence force and the Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, over his aborted plan to use the mercenaries in the Bougainville conflict moved towards a showdown yesterday.

A Battalion Group is not just made up of Grunts. Things were moving very quickly. Some thoughts. Signals and medics were on the first two planes (so you would also be exposed). Airforce personnel assigned would all be exposed. Possibly a 3 RAR company? Certainly SF. Apparently four naval ships were assigned to the initial deployment. If in doubt, double check your medical records.

To the Lost.

42. Mefloquine Dispatches: FOI – One Document (30th September 2022)

Freedom of Information Directorate
Department of Defence
PO Box 7910
R1-05-A
Canberra BC ACT 2610

30th September 2022

By email: foi@defence.gov.au

Dear FOI Coordinator,

This is a request for the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 for access to the following documents:

On the 26th April 2019 the Army refused my FOI 348/18/19 request. It stated:

“10. Headquarters 1st Division located one document that mentioned Mr Granger, however it did not relate to OP BARITONE 97. No other documents were found that mentioned Mr Granger.”

Some random full bird. Read that document and made a call about me. He didn’t have to, yet he did. Then he felt the need to “share”.

I think he might also be referring to the night I went insane in 1998. I think he “shared” just to be a bastard.

Upon reflection, I’d be very interested in reading that document now. Thank you.

Should you have any questions in relation to this request, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

For your review and consideration

Shane Granger
30th September 2022

If you need help…

Thank you for your interest. More Mefloquine Dispatches can be found here.

UPDATES

TBC

31. Mefloquine Dispatches: Vanuatu, October 1996

In October 1996 the online parachute company from 3 RAR started to pre-deploy for Vanuatu after the Vanuatu Mobile Force mutinied. The U.S Department of State noted in its Human Rights report on the 30th of January 1997 that:

“The civilian authorities normally control the small police and paramilitary Vanuatu Mobile Force, however, a brief mutiny in October by elements of the VMF over pay issues shook the principle of civilian control. The mutiny was resolved without bloodshed.”

As the situation de-escalated the mission got scrubbed and was quietly forgotten, lost to history. Unfortunately, for the 3 RAR soldiers (along with attachments) they had already been given a Mefloquine Loading Dose.

Here is a text from a Digger who was exposed to Mefloquine on that Operation (along with during normal military service) and has since suffered life altering impacts from the drug. (Note: shared with permission with personal details removed). Excerpt:

Hi Shane. It’s * here. Love to catch up cause (sic) I got no idea what’s happening and am generally confused. I was contacted out of the blue by someone at dva (sic). This was 3 years ago. They said it was some mefloquine program and wanted to speak to me about my exposure to mefloquine. Told him I had no idea what he was talking about. But yes had taken malaria medication in 3 RAR and * in late 90’s. He told me he would email me. Following day a secure encrypted email show up. I ring him, he laughs, says oops and that he will resend it and just to delete it. Of course I don’t. But nothing shows up. I ring dva (sic). They keep fobbing me off saying someone from the mefloquine team will call me back. Never happened. I got shits and stopped calling. 6 months later I ring up to be told it’s an inquiry at the senate and I will need to lodge a claim. Advocates can’t tell me nothing till a month ago when advocate tells me to put in claim for mefloquine acquired anxiety disorder. I mention it to *, they say they saw some 60 mins show about it and was going to ring and ask me if I’d been on it cause of some of the shit I through in * then after discharge in *. So that’s me. I don’t really know more than that

 

This is just one example of the Department of Veterans Affairs covering up Mefloquine use in the ADF during the 1990s prior to the Senate Enquiry into the Use of the Quinoline anti-malarial drugs Mefloquine and Tafenoquine in the Australian Defence Force. Unfortunately, it is not the only example.

I’ll leave on this note.

Bureaucrats don’t authorise cover-ups. C-Level does, in this case that would be the CDF, the Departmental Secretary and the Minister.

At the time of the Senate Enquiry (June 2018) the CDF was General Angus Campbell, the Departmental Secretary of DVA was General Liz Cosson (Ret) and the Minister was the Honourable Darren Chester.

 

30. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Sandline Affair, 21st March 1997

On the 25th Anniversary of the Sandline Affair I thought it might be worthwhile to publish a couple of items I came across during my mefloquine research. The first is an article originally published on the 21st March 1997 by the Sydney Morning Herald. From the Archives: Gunpoint in PNG; mercenaries evacuated. Excerpt:

The Federal Government placed a crack Army battalion on heightened alert in a contingency plan to evacuate 12,000 Australian citizens from Papua New Guinea as rebel troops bundled the remaining mercenaries out of the country.

Late last night, 55 mercenaries were put on a chartered Air Niugini jet to Hong Kong.

The confrontation between PNG’s rebellious defence force and the Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, over his aborted plan to use the mercenaries in the Bougainville conflict moved towards a showdown yesterday.

The sacked military commander, Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok, who still holds the loyalty of most of PNG’s 4,700 troops, rejected the compromise plan by Sir Julius to hold an inquiry into the mercenaries plan, claiming it would be rigged.

Also:

Australian troops have been on alert for the past two days and are ready to move if the crisis worsens. Troops at the First Royal Australian Regiment in Townsville have packed stores, and Hercules transport aircraft at the RAAF base at Richmond have been readied.

It is understood the main purpose of the alert is to have troops ready to assist Australians in PNG if law and order collapses. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has warned Australians to stay away from PNG’s capital if possible.

The second link is a 20-minute documentary via the ABC and journeyman.tv shot in March 1997 from the ground in PNG with some extraordinary footage. To view: The 10 Days That Shook Papua New Guinea.

970321_Still_ABC_PNGRiots

Synopsis:

This report offers a dramatic overview of the events which triggered Papua New Guinea’s 1997 constitutional crisis. Jerry Singirok, the commander of Papua New Guinea’s Defence Force, was sacked for calling the government out for corruption and for spending over $40m on mercerises for the war in Bougainville. Troops loyal to Singirok revolted and seized control of the main military barracks in the country, creating a huge rift between the government and the army. Meanwhile, protests erupted in the country’s capital Port Moresby, with civilians demanding Prime Minister Julius Chan’s resignation. After MPs voted to keep Chan as Prime Minister, the army joined the protesters in storming the parliament building. Eventually Chan back down and resigned. Filming the chaos first hand, and following a pilot in the military, ABC Australia captures the turmoil that changed the fate of Papua New Guinea, and asks whether Singirok and the army’s actions defended or damaged democracy in the country.

Hotlines

Submission to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide

My story starts in 1999 when I first self-reported about mental health concerns. To the best of my knowledge I am the only person to self-report from Operation Baritone (1997).

Two years prior, on the 22nd March 1997 the online company from 3 Brigade including a detachment from the 103rd Signal Squadron of which I was a part, commenced deployment operations for an airlift to Port Moresby as part of a Company Group deployment.

It was the first stage of a larger plan to ‘temporarily’ re-occupy Papua New Guinea during the Sandline Affair.

Things were moving very quickly. The medics and doctors were under intense pressure to get us out the door. A memory from pre-deployment was of the RMO making their notes on the back of the soldier in front of me, then the same for the next in line.

As part of our pre-deployment the company was given a number of medications including a mefloquine loading dose over three days to counteract malaria. After recent investigations I found that anti-malarials was not noted in my official medical records. I have since been able to prove that I was given mefloquine via my Red Cross blood donation history.

Long story short, the Sandline Affair works itself out without Australian intervention and Company Group is given a leave pass to get on the drink. So close though. Another Fiji, 1987.

For many years, I did not remember any detail from this period until a series of ‘flash-backs’ in 2018/19 become so bad that they hospitalised me. Ironically, it is on the 22nd anniversary of Operation Baritone I was finally admitted to a mental health facility.

Mefloquine sent me insane. I attempted suicide in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2014. When I finally confirmed what the Army had done to me in early 2019 I was angry but also a little relieved. I could finally die with a little peace.

When enough memory had returned that I was able to prove the mefloquine exposure I tried to inform all the relevant authorities. Entities such as the Army HQ, the DVA were not interested in finding these men. The Australian Defence Force Malaria and Infectious Disease Institute and the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee were sympathetic but unhelpful.

In summary:

A company of soldiers were given mefloquine in 1997, a medication which was noted by the World Health Organisation as harmful in 1989. Mefloquine has also been linked to suicides and murder-suicides, most notably at Fort Bragg in 2002. It is rarely used these days. It is a medication that the Armed Forces of many countries wish they had never used.

Some from the Company Group may be dead from their mefloquine exposure. Some, like me, are permanently damaged. Many would not have experienced any symptoms and would wonder what all the fuss is about.

At the very least the men of my Company Group assigned to the opening phases of Operation Baritone deserve to be told they were exposed to mefloquine.

For your review and consideration.

26. Mefloquine Dispatches: LBMC, 28th April 1997

I wake up. I’ve managed to snatch a few minutes or hours of blessed sleep. I haven’t slept in a couple of days. I’ve got a whole body rash. In and out of ice-baths and I cannot stop scratching. If that’s not bad enough I can’t sleep as well. Don’t know why. I blame the itching but I’m pretty wired. My hands are covered in scratches. What happened there?

I’m bored. I look around for some alcohol swabs to put on my cut-up hands. There’s none near my bed but the little box is in its place, it’s just happens to be empty. At the next bed, the same story, no swabs. I don’t want to pinch the other bloke in the wards stuff but I’m desperate. I peek over. His are gone too? Curious I go out for a walk to find the duty medic. I know her. We lived together in the same Barracks when I was posted to the BASC unit the previous year.

“Hey T*, you got any alcohol swabs?”

“Sure” she says. She comes over and checks my hands. “Ouch, I saw these when you came in”. She smiles. “Must have been a bit of a scrap?”

I just smile. It’s all a bit fuzzy.

“Anyway, I shouldn’t tell you… but you know that that bloke in the ward with you?”

“Yeah” I reply. I’m interested now. I’ve always loved gossip.

I lay my hands flat on the counter while T* gently cleans the fine wounds. It stings a little.

“Ok, the reason why you don’t have any alcohol swabs is that bloke has been chewing them all. We had to take all the alcohol swabs out of the ward. Must have a big drinking problem, do you think?”

I shrug “Makes sense, I suppose”.

Not really but we all see lots of silly shit in the Army. Medics see it more than most.

25. Mefloquine Dispatches: BUPA, 17th June 2021

It’s taken two years. A mixture of research/tenacity and outright good luck have got me to this point.

I have finally got into the Neurocognitive Program. It had been called the Mending Military Minds Program but in reality it is an attempt to deal with 3rd wave injuries via anti-malarial medications now opened up to other factors like IED’s or percussive injuries.

Outright good luck too. I got into the program because my Psychologist was sharp enough to pick up on an email from Open Arms.

My Open Arms Psychologist is amazing. Open Arms runs the program. I go through the barrier testing with an Open Arms staffer who is great.

Then I get this…

I don’t do private healthcare. I worked in an Operating Theatre for a year. I have witnessed the damage these companies do to hospitals. They are parasites.

At no time was BUPA mentioned throughout the process. To the best of my knowledge BUPA should have nothing to do with this program. If BUPA were running this I wouldn’t have become involved.

Yet they do… Now I’m stuck with another bullshit process and lengthy delays.

Why does BUPA have anything to do with the Neurocognitive Program?

Update (8th July 2021)

Happy to advise that I received an unsolicited follow-up call from Open Arms enquiring about the Neurocognitive Program booking process. They listened to my concerns and will get back to me about a more suitable appointment.

Good result. Thanks Open Arms.

24. Mefloquine Dispatches: Sausage rolls and the Red Cross, 1st July 1997

February 2019.

I had been doing memory recall exercises for some weeks at this point.

The process consumes me. I’m not really ready for this type of Rapid Exposure. As I sit with my psychologist we do the work and then he spends time ‘bringing me down’. When I do it on my own I go for hours. I’m a student who thinks he is a professor.

I’m merging into an old pattern which I am starting to recognise. It’s my roller-coaster. Every six to nine months. For more than two decades.

The memory work has been fruitful. I’ve remembered taking the mefloquine which was the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) at the time. Is that enough to prove I was given mefloquine?

One of the boys gives me a doctor in the United States who I can talk to. I approach him with the evidence I have. He advises that it isn’t enough. I have no notation of mefloquine on my medical records. In fact he noted that I was cleared for doxycycline.

I’m devastated. It doesn’t matter what I can remember or what the SOP was at the time, without some sort of concrete evidence I know I’ll have a hard time proving my exposure.

I do more memory work. I should be resting. I look terrible. I feel awful. I’m not sleeping.

I get a memory.

Sausage rolls! I’m sitting in a clinical room across from a nurse who is taking notes. I’m at the Red Cross giving blood. The nurse gets excited about my blood because I had been given an anti-malarial without travelling (which is very unusual). I was there for hours too because I remember getting sausage rolls. In 1997 that was a big deal. Normal blood donations usually meant jatz biscuits with some cheese, not the luxury of sausage rolls!

At this stage I still cannot remember what I was given but despair has turned to elation.

Reality kicks in. What did I tell the nurses back in 1997? If I told them what medications I had taken did they note it? Do the notes still exist? How the hell do I access decades old records from the Red Cross?

I make a call to the Red Cross. They explained the process. I email the paperwork in March 2019.

A doctor from the Red Cross returns my call a week later. The news is confirmation of the worst. I was given mefloquine by the Army in March 1997.

I remember screaming into the sand in front of my kids when I heard the news. It was pure RAGE. We had taken the day off to enjoy a swim at a local creek. I had to collect myself before I thanked the doctor. I am so angry I gave my eldest son my phone. It takes me hours to calm down.

* Red Cross records from 1997

I finally calm down.

The evidence was compelling. Not only had I been given mefloquine in 1997 the Army had failed to note it.

Thank goodness for sausage rolls and the Red Cross!

Mefloquine Dispatches: An Index

Stories linked to my experiences after having taken mefloquine as part of my military service.

  1. Mefloquine Dispatches: My Request to Darren Chester (Final)
  2. Mefloquine Dispatches: My Daughter, 2016 (Final)
  3. Mefloquine Dispatches: Raven, 1990s (Final)
  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, October-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: FOI, 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
  24. Mefloquine Dispatches: Sausage rolls and the Red Cross, 1st July 1997
  25. Mefloquine Dispatches: Mefloquine Dispatches: BUPA, 17th June 2021
  26. Mefloquine Dispatches: LBMC, 28th April 1997
  27. Mefloquine Dispatches: McKinsey & Company, 19th October 2021
  28. Mefloquine Dispatches: 3573 – Lambie, Senator Jacqui, 23rd April 2021
  29. Mefloquine Dispatches: Patricia Fernandez de Viana, 10th December 2021
  30. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Sandline Affair, 21st March 1997
  31. Mefloquine Dispatches: Vanuatu, October 1996
  32. Mefloquine Dispatches: My Letter to Matt Keogh, 4th June 2022
  33. Mefloquine Dispatches: Jim Molan, 11th March 2002
  34. REDACTED/DVSRC – Mefloquine Dispatches: Other Suicides, April-1997 (Part One)
  35. Not published
  36. Not published
  37. Mefloquine Dispatches: Lieutenant General John Caligari, 22nd June 2022
  38. Mefloquine Dispatches: Protected Information & Confidentiality @DVSRC, 27th June 2022
  39. Mefloquine Dispatches: Anti-Malarial Medications Health Assessment Program, 15th March 2019
  40. Mefloquine Dispatches: Accessing Superannuation, 17th April – 3rd May 2019
  41. Mefloquine Dispatches: FOI – The Last Signalman (9th Sep 2022)
  42. Mefloquine Dispatches: FOI – One Document (1st Oct 2022)
  43. Not published
  44. Not published
  45. Not published
  46. Not published
  47. Mefloquine Dispatches: Dun & Bradstreet (28th September 2004)
  48. Mefloquine Dispatches: Homelessness (21st November 2022)

22. Mefloquine Dispatches: Mil Mi-24, 2016

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 at the heart of the ‘Sandline Affair’. 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. At the time of the ‘Sandline Affair’ they had cannibalised the other ‘Hueys’ to empty shells.

The Australian Government then agreed to take the Russian helicopters (2x Mil Mi-24 and 2x Mi-8 transports) on the 27th of March 1997 as the PNG Parliament began to sort out the mess after Prime Minister Chan cut and run. 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.

What happened to the two Mil Mi-24 helicopters? 19-years later they were quietly buried in a Darwin dump (apparently riddled with asbestos). Via the ABC. Russian-built Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters buried in Darwin dump. Extract:

It is an unlikely setting for the final chapter of an international diplomatic scandal, but Darwin’s waste dump holds an extraordinary secret beneath the surface.

“A few years ago, we had a couple of shipping containers turn up here that were required to be buried,” Nik Kleine, the City of Darwin’s executive manager of waste and capital works, said.

The containers had arrived from the Royal Australian Air Force base at Tindal, near Katherine. “We were alerted that [there] were aircraft in those containers,” Mr Kleine said. Until now, the specific details of the aircraft remained a mystery outside the Defence community.

But the Defence Department has confirmed to the ABC the aircraft buried in the hazardous waste section of the tip in 2016 were two Russian-made military attack helicopters.

The Mi-24 Hind gunships had been part of a saga known as the Sandline Affair, which made international headlines in the late 1990s.

Picture: ADF Serials Message Board