Lance Corporal Matthew Marrison
A platoon of soldiers from the PNGDF are currently deployed to CTF 635 to support the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
As the PNGDF uses a different communications signals system to the Australian Defence Force, Lance Corporal Marrison and two other Australian soldiers have been embedded into the Papua New Guinean (PNG) platoon to provide them with easy access to the Australian Defence Force communications systems.
To perform in his new role, Matt has had to learn to speak PNG pidgin.
“We do everything in pidgin with these guys,” Lance Corporal Marrison said.
“From the Orders Groups to relaxing and having a laugh. All of us have had to get up to speed pretty quickly.”
While all of the soldiers on CTF 635 learned some pidgin before they came, Lance Corporal Marrison took an intensive course and worked with the PNG platoon in Australia for two months before coming to Solomon Islands.
The PNG soldiers also give extra lessons out-of-hours to Australian and New Zealand soldiers.
“A lot of the boys have enjoyed learning pidgin,” he said.
“But it does make for some interesting conversations and a few laughs when you get it wrong.”
The CTF 635 is a unique opportunity for him to work with the PNG platoon and to train in jungle warfare.
It is a long way from his job back home where he works on the anti-fox program for the Invasive Species Branch of the Tasmanian Government. He says working with the PNG platoon is a different experience to working with a platoon of Australian soldiers.
“The PNG guys here are all professional full-time soldiers. They do this every single day, so their drills and operating procedures were switched on right from the start.”
“There are cultural differences too. There’s a real family and community feeling to these guys, not that we don’t have that amongst the Aussies, but it’s more tangible here with the PNG blokes.
“They live and work together all of the time, so they’re going to be pretty close. Me and the other soldiers embedded with them have been made to feel a part of that family, we’ve been really welcomed.”
The highlight of the trip for Lance Corporal Marrison was when he and his platoon conducted a multi-day patrol on a nearby island. The patrol gave the platoon a chance to have lengthy interaction with the local villagers and to observe how the PNG soldiers interact with the Solomon Island locals.
“The PNG blokes form connections in the community quicker than the Aussies do,” he said.
“The style of engagement they use is so effective at breaking down barriers, and helping the locals engage with the people behind the uniform.”
“It is easier for us to connect with the locals,” said Captain Rumint, the PNG Liaison Officer. “Our boys speak a similar language and have a similar culture,” he added.
During the extended patrol, Matt and the PNG platoon were welcomed by songs and dances from local villagers, and ‘ambushed’ by local children wherever they went.
The PNG platoon reciprocated by performing some of their songs and Lance Corporal Marrison has had to learn a few of the songs so he can do his part.
“Everyone in the villages is happy we’re here. They love to greet us with songs and dances when we are coming into a village. Singing is a part of the whole process,” he said.
“One night we went into an old church and listened to the children sing hymns. Their voices were amazing. It was a magical experience, like something out of a dream.”
He has already put his hand up to be a part of the next rotation to pass on his lessons learned to other soldiers.
“You know that over here you’re working to help make the country better. It’s a pretty good feeling to contribute to something bigger than yourself.”