Random Analytica

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

Tag: PNG

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.

My Request to Darren Chester

Dear Minister,

A few things.

I’m politely requesting access to the comprehensive health-assessment you said would be up and running by 1 July 2019.

I’m formally asking that your Department reach out to the Company Group that was assigned to Operation BARITONE redeploying from Tandem Thrust 97 then on to Garbutt on the 22nd March 1997. We were stood down a few days later. On the 30th May 2019 I provided compelling evidence that we received mefloquine via my Red Cross records.

Also… We weren’t the only Operation deploying to a malarial zone on short notice or by plane, let alone Butterworth! Are you reaching out to veterans? I’d suggest you might want to reach out to the advance party for Operation SOLACE as a starting point. Don’t worry about contacting my Troop Sergeant though. The last time I saw him was maybe a decade ago. He was screaming at me like some emaciated ghost in a train as we were arriving Roma Street. ‘GIVE ME YOUR F****** HEART GRANGE, YOU HAD A PRETTY GOOD HEART YOU C***’ while I held my son against a wall for safety.

I didn’t help him. I simply fled with my son. For years I thought it was another nightmare.

One of the Boys told me last week he is now dead.

I leave it to your conscience.

 

My request via Twitter dated 9th September 2019.

Note: The past six months have been a roller-coaster since I found out that I was given a mefloquine loading dose preparing for an insertion into Port Moresby on the 22nd March 1997. After providing countless people and organisations the information needed to get the rest of the Boys the help they deserve I have struck out alone.

190909_Tweet_Requests

Background documents provided via Twitter 10th September 2019.

Note: My SRCA determination circa 2000. The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) process back in the 1990s was absolutely brutal. Recent improvements to service delivery such as the access to a White Card for any veteran and the Opens Arms network are fantastic and life-saving initiatives.

 

First set of background documents provided via Twitter 11th September 2019.

Note: If the SRCA process was bad the appeal process put in by the Army in the late 1990s and early 2000s was downright draconian. Days after I kick-off in late 1998 I collapse into a complete blubbering wreck, completely alone and a danger to myself. I’m desperately asking for help. They send me a priest to talk me down and hand myself in. Never once was I offered counselling or given a mental health assessment. It’s 1998 and the ADF isn’t worried about its operational tempo. It certainly doesn’t talk about mental health; it’s just a disciplinary matter.

It is a peace time Army.

 

Second set of background documents provided via Twitter 11th September 2019.

Note: Only today (11th Sep 2019) while working on this update did I have a distinct memory of verbally giving the medic my Date of Birth on Discharge for my full body rash. They had only just introduced a new computerised system into the Lavarack Base Medical Centre (LBMC). Before that you used to have to add your own pages and write your details down but for blokes like me who were always in a bit of a rush you pre-filled a couple while you were hanging around the Regimental Aid Post (RAP).

 

Background documents provided via Twitter 13th September 2019.

1. Mefloquine Dispatches: The First Asylum, 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 baths. Can’t stop scratching. If that’s not bad enough I can’t sleep. Don’t know why. I blame the itching but I’m pretty wired. My hands are covered in fine scratches. Don’t know what happened there?

I’m bored. I look around for some alcohol swabs. There’s none near my bed but the little box is in its place, it’s just empty. I find another bed, same story. 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”.

I shrug “Makes sense, I suppose”.

Not really but I see lots of silly shit in the Army.

– Recent memory recall. I believe this is me talking to Private T* on either 27th or 28th April 1997.

—– —– —– —– —– —– —– —–

My 9-year old son recently asked me whether I was stupid to have joined the Army. I told him honestly that I loved the Army and I would still have run towards those planes. I say this even after everything that has happened since.

It’s not all negative. I’m not just interested in Mefloquine. You cannot mention mefloquine in Australia without talking about Tafenoquine. It might be just my binary nature but I’m also now also interested in all things that might end malaria. Always end on a positive.

If you or anyone you know of a veteran who needs help I would strongly suggest you reach out to Open Arms 1800 011 046.

They have been a lifesaver this time around.