We won't forget the endless games of five hundred with Lynchie, Chippa, Cuz, Barra, Robbo, Slav and Woodsy. The tackle bet by Curls and Dietzy. The "Big Sister" fruit cake challenge undertaken by Staffy. Wilso and Jed having endless UFC match offs. Barra disappearing into mud and sand so that only his UN beret was left on the surface. Nath, Wilso, Jason, Dietzy, Franko and Chippa's endless conversations about their ladies at the Battalion Ball. Rotten always putting his foot in it, but coming up trumps by giving an excellent presentation on the Battle of Kapyong. Cooky and Staffy always finding somewhere to workout. Scotties endless communications with his missus, and always having all the gear. Carlo, always driving someone somewhere. SGT Crowther (Crowie) and his innovative ideas for improving our positions. Gary good guy, Waitie, Wazza, Kenny, Joel and the whole platoon for working their guts out when needed and for having a good time when they could.
At 0730 hours on Friday, 27 August 1999 the soldiers of Bravo Company, 3 RAR, were ordered to parade in front of their headquarters building in Kapyong Lines at Holsworthy Barracks, Sydney. They were promptly and curtly told that the Company was to immediately deploy to a destination unknown on a mission that was yet to be announced. It was the first time that 3 RAR soldiers had an inkling of their involvement in OPERATION SPITFIRE.
Bravo Company was the 3 RAR PBG on line rifle Company and as such was expected to be operationally deployable within a notice of forty eight hours should the need arise. This notice to move was not adhered to by necessity. B Company drove out of the Battalion gates at 1500 hours on 27 August. Forty-eight hours had been reduced to seven and a half. For the first time since South Vietnam the soldiers of `Old Faithful' were embarked on active service.
That fateful Friday was a surreal day for Bravo Company and 3 RAR as a whole. The deployment order was given to the Officer Commanding (OC) Bravo Company, Major Stephen Grace at 0500 hours in the morning and was passed to the rest of the Company two and a half hours later. What followed could best be described as a flurry of frantic activity in an atmosphere of disbelief and cynicism on the part of the soldiers, Senior Non Commissioned Officers (SNCO's) and officers of B Company.
After so many false alarms and short notice exercises most were half convinced that it was all just another false start. It was only as lunchtime approached and hasty arrangements continued to be made by all ranks that it began to dawn that this was no practice run and, indeed, that the real thing was upon them.
The Company headquarters of Bravo Company consisted of the OC, his second in command (2IC) Captain Craig Stockings, the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Warrant Officer Stanley Doran, the Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS) Staff Sergeant Chas Peck and his store man Private Jason Eaton. A signal detachment of four led by Corporal Norman Mazzaferri was attached, as was a medical detachment of five under the direction of the company medic Corporal Christian Oakley. To round out the headquarters were the company clerk, and an Administration Company detachment of an armourer and a vehicle mechanic. All worked furiously to meet unforeseen deadlines.
Prior to deployment the company's three rifle platoons were immediately reinforced by the Battalion to their full manning with the addition of a number of Mortar Platoon soldiers as acting riflemen. The platoon commanders, Lieutenant Dan Gosling (4 Platoon), Lieutenant Keith Lawton (5 Platoon), and Lieutenant James Wilton (6 Platoon), along with their Platoon Sergeants, set about last minute equipment checks and provided what orders they were able to their men. A number of further attachments were made to the company on the eve of its departure. A ten man section of Assault Pioneers and Engineers under the command of Sergeant Gregory Polson and Corporal Pete Condie came under the Company's command. So too an eight man team of Direct Fire Support Weapons (DFSW) platoon soldiers led by Corporal Kevin `Jock' Reid. Final additions were two Reconnaissance (Recon) Platoon patrols of five men under Corporals Phil Larkam and Michael Reyne and four sniper pairs coordinated by the Battalion's Sniper Supervisor, Sergeant Shane Armstrong. The final element of the Company group was its Forward Observer (FO) party of four, led by Captain Dave Kelly. This artillery team was re-designated a Civil Military Operations Team (CMOT) for the operation. Numbering more than one hundred and fifty men the Bravo Company Group was indeed a formidable one.
From the moment the operational order was issued to the Company its battle procedure progressed at a rapid rate. Apart from the well practiced stores distribution and series of checks, a number of peculiar and particular incidents occurred that strongly suggested to the soldiers that something serious was afoot. The 2IC, who marched into the company at 0600 hours the morning of the deployment, was immediately `frocked' from Lieutenant to Captain and he began in earnest to provide passport applications and photos to members of the Company who did not have them. The Company group was hastily issued with `NINOX' night fighting equipment and the Battalion was formed up into a hollow square on the parade ground. Bravo Company was central and stood for an address from the Commanding Officer (CO) Lieutenant Colonel Nick Welch. If these significant events were not enough to convince soldiers, who had been hoping for this day to come throughout their careers that it was actually here. The buses that pulled onto the Battalion parade ground at 1500 hours certainly ended their scepticism. Bravo Company, 3 RAR, as the on line rifle company, deployed on OPERATION SPITFIRE as it drove out the gates of Kapyong Lines that afternoon.
Bravo Company's bus ride was direct to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Richmond. It was a ride that all aboard had done numerous times on exercise or for parachute continuation training. True to Murphy's unwritten law, one of the buses had a little trouble finding its way to the RAAF base, but there was never any real danger of not making the next link in the journey north. If anything, the prolonged bus ride gave the Company staff a chance to review the deployment order and start to come to terms with the whirlwind departure and what was potentially looming beyond it. It was now apparent that the Company group was bound for RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory under a cloak of secrecy. There were no television cameras where the company was headed and none to see it off. Indeed, any contact back home was strictly monitored and curtailed. It became clear that OP SPITFIRE was not widely known of by the public. Instead news footage of the time seemed interested only in playing file footage of Darwin's Is' Brigade units while the real move was under way.
The Company arrived at RAAF Richmond and promptly alighted onto an Air Force Boeing 707 for a continuation of the journey north. The group touched down at RAAF Tindal at around 0300 hours on 28 of August. After a very long and draining day the Company was dispersed into a tent city transit lines camp. The camp had its own kitchen and ablutions, but otherwise the Company was isolated from the rest of the world. The first day of the deployment ended for Bravo Company with a hot dinner / breakfast of Chicken Kiev, amongst other things, put on by the Air Force cooks. It was a prelude to the commendable level of support provided by RAAF Tindal to the Company for the duration of their stay in the Northern Territory.
Once in Tindal, Bravo Company came under the operational command of Joint Task Force (JTF) 504 and was married up with C 130 aircraft and Black Hawk helicopter support.
The next eight days were busy for Bravo Company. The rifle platoons and attachments launched with gusto into a schedule of training normally reserved solely for operations and rarely found on any exercise. At this stage there was no firm indication of exactly when and where or even how the Joint Task Force would deploy but this uncertainty did not slow the pace of training. The more typical range of infantry minor tactics and platoon and sections standard operating procedures (SOPS) were rehearsed by platoon and section commanders. All of whom were trying to second guess what would actually come to pass in the not too distant fixture. An evacuation style of operations was certainly in the forefront of everybody's mind, but there remained a tangible sense that all contingencies needed to be covered.
Some very positive training experiences were to come out of this period for the soldiers of Bravo Company. For instance not many had seen up to thirteen Black Hawks in the air at any one time. The Company eagerly snapped up opportunities to practice contingency and operational helicopter loading as well as a number of other techniques not usually available to soldiers of the Parachute Battalion Group.
From a command perspective this period was equally hectic. Throughout the time in Tindal the operational plan was extremely fluid. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that plans changed daily.
One brief aside from the gruelling training program came in the form of a visit by the Minister for Defence the Honourable Mr John Moore. The visit was complete with a press entourage and some of the soldiers and Junior Non Commissioned Officers (JNCOs) became temporary celebrities as their faces appeared on Australia's national news programs. The where, why and when of the operation were all well hidden and while the public at large were aware that some element of the Army was on the move the fact that Bravo Company, 3 RAR, was leading the way was not widely known.
As the situation in Dili deteriorated, the operational concept grew to include a sea borne option. In combination to the projected airhead at Dili airport it was considered important that the option to create a sea head was also available from Dili wharf. This would increase tactical options on the ground. This requirement forced the splitting of Bravo Company. One element of the Company was to move by air to Darwin in order for quick access to the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN's) newest and fastest troop carrying ship the HMAS Jervis Bay. Meanwhile, the other half of B Company would remain in Tindal to provide security for the airborne SPE should it be activated. The latter group, that destined to remain behind in Tindal, was based on Lieutenant Keith Lawton's Five Platoon. With him were the Recon patrols and certain Combat Service Support (CSS) detachments. This was a tall order for the young officer who was now to report directly to the JTF 504 commander as well as to his OC in Darwin. It was a job he did well. The order to split Bravo Company was executed and on 7 September the Company minus was flown, again under a blanket of secrecy, to RAAF Darwin.
Immediately after the Company touched down at RAAF Darwin they were whisked away by bus towards Robertson Barracks, the home of the Army's 1St Brigade. Such was the secrecy of their arrival that the transport drivers were told to take indirect routes to the barracks lest somebody conclude where and why the Company was moving.
The Company was dispersed throughout the 1st Brigade in its transit accommodation and settled in for more waiting. Given the circumstances it was impossible to continue with training but the Company did not have to suffer long before something significant occurred.
At this time the majority of the Army, and Australians in general, had no idea how closely poised Bravo Company was for a trip across the Timor Sea. The 1St Brigade Officer's and Sergeant's Messes were much surprised to see the strange appearance of these maroon beret wearing men. Interesting conversations occurred at the time with most ending with an adamant denial by the northern Brigade that anything was happening at all. Certainly nothing, they maintained, would occur without their participation. Such denial could not last indefinitely.
On 9 September a call came from Major O'Leary to Major Grace which fired the Company Group in Darwin into action. In a sleepy but excited haze the men mustered and boarded trucks and buses bound for HMAS Jervis Bay. Plans were hastily drafted between the Company headquarters, the Captain of the Jervis Bay and the commander of a Navy Clearance Diver Team. Bravo Company moved off from the pier at Darwin harbour without fanfare and under the cover of darkness bound for the coast of East Timor on what looked like a Services Protected Evacuation from Dili wharf.
The trip from Darwin to Dili took approximately twenty four hours in the speedy catamaran. Life aboard the ship provided some novel experiences for the paratroops. The Jervis Bay was designed as a civilian ferry so while room was plentiful and television screens were abundant sleeping areas were not. The ship resembled a passenger aircraft more than a military vessel. Nonetheless, the soldiers found their sleeping places under chairs and tables and began to watch a ceaseless string of videos that did not stop until the trip was over. While this was occurring orders were given, rules of engagement scenarios played out and what rehearsals were possible were conducted. As Indonesian territorial waters approached the level of anxiety grew.
This trip did not end as was anticipated. Some few kilometres short of Indonesian waters the stand down order was given and the Jervis Bay turned around and headed once again back to Darwin. Some diplomatic manoeuvres and a number of other issues caused the order to return to be given. Again, the Jervis Bay pulled into Darwin in the middle of the night and the familiar buses were waiting to return the Company to its temporary home at Robertson Barracks.
The second Bravo Company component of the split JTF 504 remained in Tindal and continued to train for a Services Protected Evacuation operation. SGT Polson and one of his engineers were converted into a High Risk Search Team (HRST) and LT Lawton's men worked diligently to ensure that their part of the operation would be right.
Meanwhile, the Company group in Darwin rested in its transit lines for only one day before things began to happen again. The phone rang a second time with an order to activate and once more the Company paraded itself and its equipment in preparation for the move across the sea. The buses rolled into the I' Brigade Transit Lines and moved the group once more onto the HMAS Jervis Bay. With a rejuvenated sense of anticipation the Company embarked and began to absorb the ship's selection of videos for the second time. On this occasion the group made it to the edge of Indonesian territorial waters before it paused.
Political and diplomatic manoeuvring moved at a slower rate than the Company did. Around eight hours were spent motionless in the middle of the ocean while the decision was made back in Australia whether or not Bravo Company would continue its journey. The coast of Timor was clearly and easily visible to everyone on board at this time. The Company was so close and yet so far away as once again the order came to stand down and return to Darwin. The news was taken well but it was a bitter pill to swallow for men that had been on the edge now for almost a month. The front gate of Robertson Barracks was a familiar sight as Bravo Company returned to its pseudo home.
Despite an amount of cynicism that was creeping into the soldiers it was only eighteen hours after returning for the second time before a third order was given to board the ship. The grumbling may have been more audible but the reaction time was no slower as the subunit moved again from bus to ship. The well rehearsed process was a smooth movement by now. Spirits were high as the ship pulled away from Darwin for the third time for surely this had to be the one to go all the way.
Again plans were fine tuned and this time the concept was modified in order to land at an oil refinery wharf to the west of the main Dili wharf. The refinery wharf was long and narrow but this choice did nullify the fear that too many refugees would be encountered at the original access point. Security was weighed up against control as this plan was put forth. The Jervis Bay was to stop short of the refinery jetty whilst the Navy's clearance divers ensured the safety of the wharf. Once this was done the Company would provide a perimeter of protection while the evacuees were processed and back loaded to the ship.
During the trip Major Grace and the Captain of the Jervis Bay made provision for weapons training and a range was set up from the aft quarter of the vessel. It was a novel but valuable experience. In many ways it seemed akin to file footage seen by most of the soldiers of British servicemen doing a similar thing en route to the Falkland Islands in 1982. Bravo Company readied itself as the territorial limits of East Timor were reached but to everyone's chagrin the ship again came to a stand still. Once more the coast could be seen quite clearly when for the third time the request to continue was refused and the ship headed back to Australia. Heavy hearts were heavier still when during the return the Company was told that the operation was actually proceeding, on a greatly reduced scale, utilising C 130 aircraft. Worse still, the Bravo Company elements in Tindal were not part of it!
In the end the only one member of B Company touched foreign soil. Word was received during the move back to Darwin that the split Company, upon returning, would be re united. Furthermore, the entire Battalion would soon move to Darwin. It seemed that perhaps not all was lost for as SPITFIRE was concluding something else and something bigger was only just beginning.
In the very last days of JTF 405 and OPERATION SPITFIRE a rifle company from the l" Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) reinforced LT Lawton's platoon in Tindal. This was to prove inconsequential and a little too late for on 15 September the detachment from Bravo Company joined the remainder of the sub unit in Darwin. Bravo Company was stood down from OPERATION SPITFIRE and JTF 405 was disbanded. At this time the remainder of the 3 RAR Battalion group, less the gun line of A Field Battery, were themselves preparing for deployment and gearing up for a move to Robertson Barracks as part of a new task force. These moves were the beginnings of OPERATION WARDEN. Bravo Company only had time for a short breath before joining the rest of the Battalion for the next step in the journey to East Timor.
OPERATION SPITFIRE was an experience that Bravo Company will not quickly forget. The sub unit was torn from Holsworthy on minimal notice and thrown into an unfamiliar environment working with unfamiliar organisations. The pressure on the Company from the outset was significant. False alarms and near misses compounded the emotions of all. However, the men of the Company rose to the challenge at all levels. The soldiers trained with a rarely seen intensity despite being kept in the dark most of the time. They did not complain. The officers and NCOs were forced to operate well outside established training regimes. They dealt with planning for real contingencies with minimal information and in time frames that would be considered unworkable in peacetime exercises. The fact that the Company group did not physically stand on East Timorese soil should not be the measure by which OP SPITFIRE should be judged. Had the order been given B Company was ready to carry out its mission with commitment and professionalism characteristics that were to become the Battalion's trademark once a landing in East Timor was eventually made.
A year ago operational experience was afar off dream for many of us. It was the culmination of training, the test that would prove once and for all if we had what it took. On the morning of the 27th of August 1999 Bravo Company, The 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment took the first steps toward that test.
That morning they received orders that would see them leaving their homes before the sun had set. They would deploy to an un-revealed location with an undisclosed mission to return at an unspecified time. This was to begin the first deployment of `Old Faithful' since Vietnam. The deployment would see the Battalion face many diverse challenges and push us past our comfortable limits.
The following is a brief account of the Battalion's time on operations. It will begin with Bravo Company's call up for OPERATION SPITFIRE and continue through the Battalion's deployment to OPERATION WARDEN and it's subsequent clearance of Dili. It will move through the months spent on border patrols in the west and operations in the Oeccussi Enclave. It will speak of 'Old Faithful's' rapport with the people of East Timor and conclude with the return to Australia and families.
At 0730h on the 27th of August 1999, Bravo Company was recalled and informed that they would depart that day to support the evacuation of Australian Nationals from East Timor. The company quickly took stock of the situation and began the final preparations for deployment. Men moved from point to point carrying stores and filling in paperwork. An air of anticipation filled the Battalion as it readied it's on line company to depart, countered to a small extent by the cynicism of those who had done it all before only to be stood down at the last minute. This attitude grew less as the hours wore on; it was replaced by a quiet determination to be ready.
Bravo Company, as the on line Parachute Company Group, had been placed on 48 hours notice to move. In a mere seven and a half hours, from receiving it's orders, Bravo Company had regrouped with its supporting elements and was driving out of the Battalion gates. The trip to Richmond RAAF Base was a chance to issue what orders they had or could think to give the men. The following day Bravo Company arrived at Tindal RAAF Base and into a world of their own. For the weeks that followed the Company and its attachments rehearsed contingency plans. The Company focused on crowd control and gas training. Superimposed on this training was the normal range of Infantry Minor Tactics. It was a time characterised by a fluid environment in which planning changed on a constant basis. All commanders were trying to second guess what would occur in the not too distant fixture. An emphasis on evacuation style operations was apparent, but in a definite belief that all possible events be covered as fully as time allowed.
Throughout its training at Tindal, Bravo Company maintained a shroud of secrecy, with contact home closely monitored. It became very apparent to the men of Bravo Company that OP SPITFIRE was not generally known by the public. Instead the news stations continued to play footage of the Northern Battalions gearing up while the real move continued quietly and without fanfare.
As the situation continued to deteriorate in the East Timor capital of Dili, the plan changed shape to include a sea borne option. In combination to the projected airhead at Dili airport it was considered important that the option to create a sea head was also available from Dili wharf. This requirement forced the splitting of Bravo Company. One element of the Company was to move by air to Darwin in order for quick access to the HMAS Jervis Bay. Meanwhile, the other half of Bravo Company would remain in Tindal to provide security for the airborne Service Protected Evacuation should it be activated. The split occurred on 7 September, under a blanket of secrecy to the everybody's mind was extent that vehicle routes were different and indirect to Robertson Barracks.
The time spent at Robertson Barracks was one of enforced inactivity regarding training, but the situation and planning continued to change. On 9 September a call came which fired the Company Group in Darwin into action. Bravo Company moved off from the pier at Darwin harbour without display and under the cover of darkness bound for the coast of East Timor on what looked like a Services Protected Evacuation from Dili wharf.
Some few kilometres short of Indonesian waters the stand down order was given and the Jervis Bay turned around and headed once again back to Darwin. The phone rang a second time with an order to activate. The coast of Timor was clearly and easily visible to everyone on board at this time. The Company was so close and yet so far away as once again the order came to stand down and return to Darwin Despite an amount of cynicism that was creeping into the soldiers it was only eighteen hours after returning for the second time before a third order was given to board the ship. Spirits were high as the ship pulled away from Darwin for the third time for surely this had to be the one to go all the way. Once again Bravo Company was to come within sight of the East Timor coastline before being stood down.
OP SPITFIRE concluded without a single Bravo Company soldier touching foreign soil. The Company moved back into Darwin with word that the Battalion would regroup at Robertson Barracks for further operations. It was some consolation to the men that had so many false starts to realise something bigger was about to happen.
The Battalion regrouped in Darwin and set about chasing information and second guessing the situation. On the afternoon of 17 September the Commanding Officer briefed his Company commanders on OPERATION WARDEN and outlined the sub unit tasks once a landing in Dili had been made. Maps were issued; along with as much up to date intelligence and photographs of Dili as the unit could muster.
Alpha Company was tasked to conduct a break out from the wharf area into an interim AO before moving out and occupying a Company TAOR. Charlie Company was to move on to their own TAOR to establish headquarters and patrol base locations before beginning sustained security operations and initiating a patrolling program. Bravo Company's task was to advance to and secure the United Nations Compound to the south of the city. The Company would then occupy its TAOR. Support Company was to provide defence of BHQ, and other core specific tasks as they arose.
At 1815hrs on 20 September 1999, after the mammoth task of loading a Battalion and its stores had been achieved at last, 3 RAR was underway from the port of Darwin. Before the unit left Robertson Barracks it had paraded and been farewelled by the Prime Minister in a short but significant parade. Once on board the men talked and joked with the bravado of warriors going to war, sometime during that long night the decks became quiet as men settled down and contemplated what lay ahead. Most were awake for the movies `Saving Private Ryan' and `The Odd Angry Shot'.
Both the HMAS Jervis Bay and HMAS Tobruk steamed northwards throughout the night. By sunrise on 21 September 1999, both vessels lay off the entrance to Dili harbour. Men scrambled for position at the windows to catch their first glimpse of Dili. It is a sight that none will forget; A town destroyed; the dock was filled with refugees and the stuff of their former lives; the air was full of ash and death. As the men moved into the town, a row of bullet holes and blood stains acted as a timely reminder of the violence which surrounded them. Soldiers scanned their arcs constantly looking for something out of the ordinary when everything looked out of the ordinary. Companies patrolled into the TAOR's and quickly established Company Patrol Bases. The evening was spent hardening the positions and the night was spent growing used to the noises of Dili.
The entire area was a powder keg as TNI units were still occupying this section of Dili. Relations were strained to say the least. There were continued threatening gestures on their part and angry slogans were painted on walls. The Battalion consolidated its position and Companies immediately sent Platoons and Section strength patrols throughout their areas of responsibility.
The 23 September saw TNI begin the first reluctant gestures of withdrawal from the capital, handing the responsibility for order over to INTERFET. On 24 September, a Battalion level operation was carried out. It was a cordon and search in Dili of moderate success. It was conducted in spite of an active TNI presence inside of the cordoned area and demonstrated the force and ability to concentrate that force at anytime, anywhere in the TAOR which the Battalion had at its disposal.
In the next few days the rifle Companies continued to patrol in their TAOR's and carried out a number of cordon and search operations themselves. These and other activities were a considerable success and the sub units began to find that most of their tactical intelligence and weapon finds originated from information offered by the locals. Even at this early stage the value of winning over the civilian population was becoming evident. This phase of the occupation of Dili was characterised by confiscations of weapons.
Sunrise on Kapyong Day 2000, Batugade East Timor. For the majority of soldiers in East Timor, it was a day that began as any other. For the volunteers of Pegasus Platoon 3RAR, under command 5/7RAR, the significance of Kapyong day could not be under rated.
The platoon assembled on the mud, with the maroon winged parachute flag flying high in the early morning breeze. We stood in silence, a look of pride and determination on the faces of the men, as the bagpipes played Our Director.
It was a significant day for a variety of reasons. For all present it was a chance to reflect on the incredible feats of soldiers past, and put our modest achievements into context. For many members in the platoon it marked almost eight months active service in East Timor, putting them among the longest serving members in the campaign. It gave us the motivation to maintain our high standards, and to fiercely guard the reputation 3RAR had maintained in East Timor of serving with distinction. Lastly, our thoughts turned to home and the rest of the Battalion, who would be commemorating this day in Australia.
Pegasus Platoon was formed on the 12 February 2000, at Government House, Dili. While the rest of the Battalion was cleaning equipment and making plans for their holiday, thirty men were planning for another two and a half month stay in country.
The compound at Tonibibi was an old shopping area. After months of rain combined with ASLAV's and APC's, the area more closely resembled a mud bath. CPL Newson (Newie) and LCPL Ried (Chippa) had just enough time to stow their Ech bags before departing for an OP task. Meanwhile CPL Scott (Scotty) and LCPL Currey (Cuz) took over a VCP task at the Nunura Bridge. It is important to note that the position at Nunura Bridge was to change dramatically after suggestions from Scotty and his section. Lastly, CPL Slavin (Slav) and PTE Robinson (Robbo). Joined PHQ at the compound.
The month at Tonibibi was challenging with the sections changing tasks every two or three days, all doing VCP's, OP's, patrol tasks and security. One task the soldiers will not forget is Junction Point Charlie. A mosquito infested swamp situated on the side of the river marking the border with West Timor. It was situated opposite a TNI post and enabled us to monitor the Tonibibi markets, a short walk north of the position. The market was a trading area on the border, set up by the locals to allow West and East Timor merchants to buy and sell goods. The items bought and sold ranging from tobacco to motor cycle parts. Our job was to provide security to the market which started at sunrise and ended at around seven in the morning. The trading took place on the bank of the river on the West Timor side. The Timorese often braving the rapid running water to carry goods across. The situation was always tense, the militia often turning up on the Western side of the border and scaring the locals, resulting in a mad rush back across the border. This was always a spectacular sight as we usually had over three thousand locals, and we were never more than section strength on the ground.
Leaving the mud behind in March we moved again at the start of April, north of Balibo to Batugade. After doing local patrols for a week by day and night, we departed by helicopter for a border patrol. After more than a month of static tasks and short patrols, it was a welcome change. The patrol took a week and involved a relocation and resupply by helicopter. By moving around our AO on foot, the locals were often surprised to see us. They had been used to hearing the APC's before seeing Australian soldiers. Getting out and mixing with the locals is what we did best in East.
Following the patrol we were moved down to the "Beach Hut", this was a combination of VCP's and Border checkpoints both on the border and just over a kilometre inland. The road running from Batugade, along the coast into West Timor, was and still is the main crossing point for East Timorese wishing to come back to East Timor. It is also the area where the reunion visit occurs. Every week, this event attracts thousands of East and West Timorese into a tightly controlled area. The Australians are responsible for the outer security and the Portuguese responsible for the inner security. This was an often challenging and busy task.
From Batugade we moved to Dili and spent just over a week cleaning our equipment and making a quiet entry back into Australia. The men of Pegasus Platoon missed the fanfare and celebration of our return home, we didn't have a ticker tape parade and there was no beer and two up on ANZAC day. In fact on the trip home our C 130, which was taking us from Dili to Sydney, broke down and we spent the night in Townsville. However, we were volunteers, and nobody in the platoon ever complained or felt that he was missing out.