Troops put to test

Tom Zaun­mayr fol­lowed the Pil­bara Reg­i­ment on their nine-day train­ing ex­er­cise to spot il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties.

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Pic­ture: Tom Zaun­mayr

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.

Pic­tures: Tom Zaun­mayr

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.

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