Gunner Stephen Hodgkinson
Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) is a partnership between the people and the government of the Solomon Islands and the fifteen contributing nations of the Pacific Islands Forum. The RAMSI Partnership is to build a peaceful, prosperous and well governed Solomon Islands where key institutions and functions of law and justice, public administration and economic management are effective, affordable and can be sustained.
RAMSI’s military contingent is made up of soldiers drawn from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga referred to as Combined Task Force 635. It seems appropriate that, given our joint ANZAC heritage, Australian and New Zealand troops are still serving together in places like the Solomon Islands.
Even better many people aren’t aware that Tongan troops also fought in WW1 beside the ANZACs as part of the New Zealand Army Corps. Within the current Tongan platoon are soldiers who have recently fought in Afghanistan. For a small nation they have a military history to be proud of and contribute their share to international peace keeping activities.
What’s happened so far:
When the wheels of our Hercules transport plane touched down on the tarmac of Henderson Field there was a palpable sense of excitement within the cargo area where we were located. We sat facing each other, shoulders touching and with our legs in whatever free space we could find. It certainly was cosy, but not a means of travel I feel certain would hold much appeal to the majority of the travelling public.
From the airport we were directed onto mini buses and transported to our new home, the Guadalcanal Beach Resort or “GBR” as we refer to it. Along the way we received our first look at the island that we are to call home for the next 4 months. Our first impression was that the island was very green and lush, which to many of us who have come from the dry and dusty climes of Western Australia and South Australia, was a stark contrast to conditions back home.
The work we began in our lead up training at Canungra and back in Perth continued once we arrive in Solomon Islands, with our primary focus being to ensure that we are ready and able to deal with any local civil contingency or climatic emergency. This has, among other things, entailed an ongoing regime of physical training (PT) in the mornings, as well as voluntary PT after “knock off” at the end of the day. This ensures that the men and women of the deployment are in peak physical shape to handle the demands of working in a humid environment.
Originally the first ADF deployment that resided in GBR had to make-do with ‘Hootchies’ (Army tents) for accommodation and Rat Packs (ration packs) for meals. Thankfully, for our rotation, things have changed a bit and at the end of a long day we get to reside in air conditioned accommodation and are provided fresh food for our meals. In case you’re thinking we live in luxury let me dispel the idea. The majority of our day is spent outdoors doing weapon training, drills, scenario exercises and other activities. In a climate where the humidity is so high and where the temperature never seems to reach “cool”, a day spent outside doing any kind of activity can be physically demanding and it would be a rare soldier whose camouflage shirt was not plastered to their back with sweat by 10 in the morning.
We leave the confines of GBR whenever we can and travel to the range for weapon practice, into Honiara on a supply run or simply out to the surrounding area for familiarisation trips and other activities. Whenever we are out and about we make sure that we wave to the locals who smile and wave back. It is this simple action of a mutual wave and a smile which, to me, shows that the people of Solomons appreciate our presence and the calm security situation.
Our days are full and there is a feeling of achievement in the air at the end of a day for we are doing the work that we have trained to do and which in many cases, we never thought we would have the opportunity to be able to put into practice.
When we return, it is my belief that we will have benefited from a unique experience and will hopefully be both better soldiers and, more importantly, better people who will enrich the lives of those around us.