Troops put to test
Tom Zaunmayr followed the Pilbara Regiment on their nine-day training exercise to spot illegal activities.
Pilbara Regiment troops were put through their paces during a nine-day border protection training operation between Exmouth and the Dampier Archipelago. The exercise helped prepare troops for deployment on surveillance missions to break criminal activities such as drug shipments, illegal fishing and people smuggling.
Perched among a rocky outcrop above a bay on the Dampier Archipelago, a squad of Pilbara Regiment soldiers lies in wait, watching over the movements of vessels at sea.
They keep an eye on the waters all day and all night. The area they are watching over has been identified as a place of interest for illegal activities — anything from turtle shell poaching to drug smuggling — and it is their job to call in any suspicious activity they see.
This time, surveillance at this spot lasts two days of the nine-day Operation COLT training exercise, but regiment soldiers can spend weeks holed up in the same place watching over our shipping passages.
To get here isn’t an easy task. An LCM8 landing craft transfers the soldiers and their gear close to shore.
From there, they disembark onto zodiacs to make the run to the coast. It isn’t a pleasant ride. The waters have kicked up and everyone ends up drenched, but once a landing point is found between the mangroves, the Pilbara sun dries everyone in quick time.
From the shore, it is about a 2km hike with packs and weapons through spinifex plains, creek beds and rocky hills to get to their surveillance point. The operation didn’t start on the islands though.
It started in the Q store at the Taylor Barracks in the Light Industrial Area.
Here, regiment staff are tasked with overseeing equipment supply — everything from food rations to boots to weapons — for the troops heading out in the field.
While this is being organised, mechanics give a final pass over the land and ocean-going vehicles to be used during the operation.
Cooks work behind the scenes prepping one last meal before the regular army and army reserves
switch over to ration packs for the duration of their deployment.
Medical staff build a profile of each troop heading out to ensure they can respond quickly and effectively if anyone in the field comes a cropper.
A communications team lock themselves away in a room behind the bunks, surrounded by maps, call signals, and screens used to keep their men and women in the field one step ahead of the enemy.
These aren’t the career paths traditionally associated with the armed forces, but all are necessary pieces of the border security puzzle. While this time it was training, in real operations, troops’ lives and our nation’s security depend on this well-oiled machine and others across Australia running smoothly.
For the armed forces training in our region this month, “next time” means Operation Resolute — the Australian Defence Force’s contribution to protecting Australia’s borders and offshore maritime interests.
It targets threats including illegal maritime arrivals, piracy, biosecurity, fishing and pollution.
This is the real deal, and is what Operation COLT is training them for.
The surveillance unit used night-vision goggles to track vessel movements around the Dampier Archipelago.
Medical training undertaken during Operation COLT.
The LCM8 landing craft in Dampier.
Pilbara Regiment members conducted overnight surveillance from a vantage point on West Lewis Island.
The LCM8 crew travelled from Darwin to Exmouth, then back to the Dampier Archipelago.