All our training for the past 1+ years boiled down to this major exercise that was conducted in Australia. It was a summation of how our battalion fought and our state of readiness according to what they said.
“…than the ___.”
Right after our last local outfield, we packed for the trip. It entailed a lot of cleaning due to Australia’s strict rule of no foreign biological stuff in their land. The biosecurity guys came down to check and we were given the green light to go. On the day of departure [18 Oct], we waved goodbye to our loved ones and boarded my first-ever SQ flight to Rockhampton. I watched Furious 7 and Ted 2 before sleeping during the 8-hour flight.
We reached ROK at 8pm local time [+2 hrs ahead of us] and proceeded to load up our luggage on the coaches. The Frame 1 Armour people were about to depart for SG in the plane that we just came from.
Outside the airport
We pulled off around 9.30pm and reached “虎山” around 11pm.
The bus turned into this side road called Raspberry Creek Road. After travelling for don’t know how long, we reached a fenced area and travelled for some distance to reach camp. It was around 30km along this road.
As soon as we reached, we were given a tour of the camp and its facilities. I need not mention the shower system–you can see it on facebook. The toilet area was split into urinals and toilet bowls. Urinals was simply a funnel that reached underground while the toilet bowls were planted on top of a huge hole in the ground that was supposed to contain shit. No flushing system either–scoop sawdust from a mound and cover your waste up. Water was precious there–we ran out of water twice during our stay [attributed to wasteful shower techniques]. Bunks were 16-man tents with a safari bed, pillow and sleeping bag.
That night we had to fix back all our equipment thanks to the Aussies’s insistence that we dismantle everything. Sleep came late and morning came early. At 6am it was bright already. Meals were provided by SFI–they were sumptous at first but food didn’t seem nice after some time. Usually kiwi fruit was available! Apparently the whole camp is maintained by Primary Industries Queensland Logistics, from food to even the canteen. There is a “cyber cafe” consisting of laptops with terribly slow internet connection. Canteen food was okay– I liked the kebab, chips and Breaka milk . It was also the place where the whole battalion charged their phones and portable chargers, thus going earlier was required to “chope” a prized socket spot. Movies shown there were often the negative-reviewed ones on IMDB (The Cobbler, Unfinished Business) but there were gems like Pitch Perfect 2 and the third Hobbit film. Sometimes Top Gear or Havoc were shown. It can be quite hot in the day with temperatures more than 35 degrees C but the nights are blessedly cool at around 20 degrees–natural aircon everyday! Rain came once during our outfield, such is the timing of it all.
There was a day and night orientation walk for us to get used to the terrain. Basically vegetation is less dense and sometimes it can be sparse. Compared to terrain here it was godsend. What made the walk more difficult was the presence of deadfall and the crossing of dry creeks, especially at night. This was a recurring problem during the 4 day outfield later on. However, we were aided by the full moon and the stars were breathtaking–unlike the ones you see here.
Preparations were done for a 2 day outfield, which was sort of a rehearsal for the real 4-day one. Due to the presence of thunderstorms 5km away, we remained under shelter and were transported some 2km from the objective.
Our objective name: an urban ops area
It is an area created by the Aussies, consisting of some 200-300 Royal Wolf containers. We experienced how tricky it was due to the mutual supporting nature of the containers: passageways connected one building t another and there were false walls as well. Quite fun to fight in but differs from our ‘real buildings’ approach. Defended the area but our sector was untouched. After all was over, we took a chopper back to camp. I sat right behind the cockpit and saw how the pilots operated it–quite cool!
Satellite image of the area
Exterior of objective: we had to walk through chest high ‘lallang’/weeds from tree cover.
Wrecked cars line the outside of the buildings. All were 80s to 90s Japanese models.
Next up was the real fight–a grueling 4 day affair. The same preparations and rehearsals were done, and on the evening we moved out, our superiors gave us impassioned pep talks to do ‘what we have done for the past 1 year or so’.
First mission: we walked a mind-boggling distance of 20+ km through the tortuous bush. Rest was short-lived and everyone were dead tired. Compounded with enemy patrol attacks right before the place, we felt like a mess.
Our direction of attack was to take them by surprise, so we had to climb up the face of the hill where they did not expect us to come from. It was quite steep and the approach felt brainless, though we managed to grab an important foothold. The other coys suffered heavy casualties as well. Being dead, I rested at the ‘dead people site’. It started to rain and it was only until the evening when we went back to the platoon. A cold wind blew and heat packs appeared in a flurry in an attempt to warm ourselves. We were troop-lifted to an airfield to sleep for the night. I was awoken at the ungodly hour of 1am due to some problem with my GPS.
Morning dawned and we were given some rest before moving out in the afternoon. Objective 2, which we fought before, had to be attacked in the evening. It felt straightforward, but many things went wrong. We were delayed by mobile enemy patrols which inflicted damage on our forces, and the 10+ km walk included walking through an open field in pitch darkness [the moon was not out by then]. In the end, we commenced assault somewhere around midnight, some 5 hours late! Torchlight beams and rifle lasers flashed all over the place and people were shouting at each other about the situation. For one building, the walking dead became a human shield to forcibly clear the enemy camping by the stairs. From what we heard later, we fought well enough to impress the brigade senior command, who followed us all the way.
Vegetation: there were plenty of these clumps of weeds/bush, some burnt, leading to many potholes. Trees can be few at times but usually not that spare.
Hopes that this was the last mission were unfortunately extinguished based on what the enemy told us–they were fighting us again. Even they were surprised: but based on our nature, 3 missions was the norm. The plus point was that we did not have to carry the fieldpack for the last mission.
The route there was nothing worth mentioning since it was easier. My coy managed to escape an enemy patrol but was delayed due to injuries. Then we had to literally bash through branches and relatively thick vegetation, scale a rocky mountain some 200-300m high before coming down again. It felt like Brunei all over again. How on earth was this monstrosity formed out of nowhere and why did the creeks dry up? Most of them had trees growing on the river bed–it must have been at least 50 years ago. A select few only had puddles of water. The mission was a success–the enemy didn’t expect us to come from the back and were all facing the wrong direction. After the dust had settled, paradise was declared much to everyone’s joy and (discreet) photo taking commenced.
View from halfway around objective 3: one side of the hill had been dug out to form the giant mound on the right [I think]
However, some of us had lost equipment and we were ordered to return the next day to search for it. For us, we couldn’t find what we needed but others elsewhere found extra ones to top up, so it was a relief. Our paradise came a day too late. Cue the returning of stores and cleaning of arms which took another day, and there was an end-of-frame dinner organised. Our company was declared the best though our platoon wasn’t. Awards were given out to those who performed exceptionally well and got noticed. Our platoon commander thanked us for putting our best, and since he was leaving soon, it felt poignant.
During the dinner, lamb chop was served along with grilled chicken, prawn and squid. I managed to try some kangaroo meat–it tasted like bacon and beef. Alcohol (Victoria Bitter, XXXX Gold beer, Bowler’s Run and Gossips wine) were provided and drinking games began. The spirit of merriment permeated the camp–natural reaction when the last outfield was over! On the last night in camp, the canteen vendor declared that everything except the alcohol would sell for A$2–quite a bargain, but I didn’t buy anything. Our bags were already packed for the free time the next day (Part #2).