A LETTER FROM THE FRONT
A (FERRYBRIDGE) NEW ZEALAND DEFENCE FORCE OFFICER
ON DETACHMENT WITH THE UNITED NATIONS
Wing Commander Andrew Bell is a member of
the Royal New Zealand Air Force, transferring from the Royal Air Force
(Regiment) after 20 years service. He emigrated to New Zealand with
his family in March 1997, was born and grew up in Doncaster Road, Ferrybridge,
where his Mother (Joyce Bell) still lives, attended Knottingley High
School and attained his Queen's Scout Award with the 1st Knottingley
Troop. His story centers around a UN Mission, where he served with the
New Zealand Defence Force, alongside other nations including Australia,
Fiji, Nepal and Singapore; to name but a few. The story does not in
anyway reflect the views of the New Zealand Government or the Defence
Force and is given as a personal, somewhat irreverent, but amusing account
of life in the Forces.
Greetings from Sunny Suai, East
Timor. Where?, I hear you say. 125deg 17min 72sec South - 09deg
18min 16sec West, on the end of the Indonesian Archipelago, slightly
North West of Darwin, Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere.
Holiday is probably what you
are thinking, but, "hell no!", I am here as part of the United
Nations Transitional Authority East Timor (UNTAET), which actually
changed to United Nations Missions in Support of East Timor (UNMSET)
on Monday 22nd May 2002 when the country gained its independence
from Indonesia. The original mission was International Force East
Timor (INTEFET) that came in during the worst of the trouble when
pro/anti Indonesian supporters ran riot, including the wanton
destruction of property and the slaughter of innocent people.
Once again though, the motive for mobilisation of
the original Australian detachment was not humanitarian I fear, but
vast amounts of oil in the Timor Sea, which would have gone to Indonesia
or have been destroyed if they had not have intervened. Once again it
seems that lives are measured in commodities that far outweigh the wages
troops are paid. But less of the dark thoughts, and as my old Sergeant
always said, “If you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined up.”
It follows then that New Zealand committed forces to INTERFET to assist
with stopping the crimes against humanity and allow the Timorese people
to regain some semblance of normality. Yes we were the good guys in
the 'white hats' riding the 'white horse'. Alas, both the hats and the
steeds these days are painted camouflage and the horse is more than
likely to be a helicopter or an armoured personnel carrier.
"What's happening?", I hear you say, "Will there be medals?". Certainly!
Three in fact, but for now the trip…
“Bon Dia one and all”, which is the local lingo for 'narthen-lad' or
as we in New Zealand say, “Ki Ora”. Greetings from the Suai escape committee
where the temperature gauge reads higher than a Lancastrians IQ. I was
going to write this letter back home weeks ago, but events overcame
me, like the heat, mosquitoes and reality. As usual in the military,
the previous lot we relieved left us in the lurch, no that's unfair,
confused would be more appropriate. Well maybe that's the heat as well.
However, I thought for this thrilling instalment I would highlight
a typical day here on the front line of humanity, (if one exists) serving
with such a fine body of troops from 'Godzown'.
Theoretically the day starts at about 0600hrs, but that is the first
lie. In reality most normal people start the day about three or four
hours before that. Were we in New Zealand, daily ablutions would commence
with the 'light relief', the need heightened here by the vast intake
of water we drink to ward off dehydration. I will really miss these
early morning, half-awake conversations in the toilet when I get back!
Anyway back to 0600hrs. The morning Alarm is given; not a bugle but
two ruddy great gas-turbine engines turning the rotors of the Kiwi Helicopters.
We live so close to the heli-pad that your teeth vibrate. So after a
quick wash of the hands and clean of the teeth, it’s off to the kitchen
area for a continental breakfast. Lie number two. I suspect the continental
breakfast referred to is from the Continent of Europe. Let me assure
you that I have had many a continental breakfast, and none included
cornflakes, weetabix, UHT milk, ants, sandflies and geckos. Call me
picky, but …... The continental breakfasts I am used to, have chocolate
filled buns, savoury bread, selections of cold meats and cheeses, fresh
fruit salads and percolated coffee.
Now if you are young, daft and stupid, and have a waist line to match
your age, you get up and go running at 0600hrs. "Why?" I ask myself...
But the other day I found myself jogging round the airfield in the pre-dawn
light, so either senility has set in or the boredom has got to me.
Once the physical jerks are over, the day starts with a vengeance. There
is a constant round of jobs to do, and we have more building projects
here than McAlpine. I actually thought it was 'mad dogs and Englishmen'
that went out in the midday sun, but here it's Kiwis. Late afternoons
are the best times I find, when you have completed your jobs for the
day, and attended the Government sponsored torture session with the
Physical Training Instructor, where he always wants one last push-up,
or five more sit-ups, and the final minute of the session seems as long
as the other twenty nine. You can now sit down, take in the cool afternoon
breeze in some locally manufactured (but really horrendous) broken seats,
last used by the Spanish Inquisition to extract confessions from Heretics,
and have a relaxing coffee (with UHT milk), wishing it were beer.
We do, however, have good after hours entertainment. There are videos
most nights, and occasional sponsored lunacy (known as the Concert Party),
and a special treat, every other Saturday: big screen entertainment.
This is where the latest movies acquired on "legitimate" DVD's from
Dili are smuggled into camp (don't tell Hollywood!) and we sit on the
makeshift volleyball court (in the aforementioned chairs) in front of
a large screen and make inane comments whilst criticising the film.
Popcorn is provided, flavoured by moths attracted to the lights, or
droppings from bats attracted by the moths, and the Junior members of
the military show how macho they are by smoking large imported cigars
without turning green and throwing up (which is entertainment in itself).
However the daily highlight is the 'Fogging'. This is a large machine
that pushes out a pressurised stream of pesticide to kill the mosquitoes.
The machine is carried over the shoulder and is a bit like a flamethrower
and sometimes as hot. It disgorges a cloud of chemicals some six metres
and is incredibly noisy and smells foul; everyone hates it, but as it
is an absolute necessity to keep the mosquitoes down and prevent malarial
infection, they have to tolerate it. I love volunteering to "Fog' as
you can legally upset everyone on camp, and those that have really pissed
you off throughout the week get an extra dose, especially if they are
sat on the toilet at the time.
Then all too quickly bedtime comes around and you get clean and feel
nice in your two-minute rationed shower. Then unfortunately you start
to sweat buckets as you prepare your bed space against the night-time
invasion of the mosquitoes that you missed during fogging and have found
the one and only gap in your net, or the spiders that are out after
the mosquitoes. You then lie there for hours being dived bombed by the
little buggers, slowly drowning in your own body fluids until sleep
mercifully takes you away.
However, there is a good point to the sleep, the lucid and quite extraordinary
dreams brought about by the temperature are something else and cannot
be repeated on these pages without subject to major censorship. I kid
you not, everyone has them, but few are prepared to disclose the contents.
Mine only involved multi-coloured clouds and water. I definitely feel
like I'm missing out!
Once again the world has turned full circle and the promise of a new
dawn lightens our lives, filling us with a feeling of trepidation, now,
do I go for that run? GROUNDHOG DAY!