Behind PNGDF Covid-19 ops

THE Covid-19 pandemic has an impact on PNG’s national security on March 20.
Since then, respective agencies and the government were reminded to heighten security measures across the country’s land, air and sea borders.
Calls were made for continuous modernising and enhancement of PNGDF capabilities as the leading security agency, specifically along the 720km of land border.
Not only from the pandemic but the non-traditional security threats of the 21st century are present.

Distributing armbands to the task force team at the joint task force headquarters. JTF Covid-19 Commander Lt Col Yapu tying an armband on Major Kagena Velmore while Major Jacob John, Major Kalvale Chris await theirs. Lt Col Yapu is assisted by his Deputy Commander Major Gwaibo Gabriel (left).

The modern changing technological world also left doors opened for various organised crimes including other contrabands across many unprotected areas of this border mark.
Amid all, the brutal landscapes along these patrol trails sadly display the urgent need to properly equip the Force with all necessary capabilities.
The landmark passes through an extremely dodged geography with swampy coastal plains in both north and south.
The interior is encrusted by rugged mountain ranges.
To the north, the landmass stretched from Batas border post and across the mountains of Bewani before dropping into the untamed flatlands of Skotiau and Bewan River inside Vanimo Green.
Illegal trades, loggers without proper permits and traditional border crossers roamed freely in absence of PNG’s border security agencies.
I remember one rainy September afternoon in 2015 when I witnessed a last sortie of PNGDF special force being inserted into these jungles.
The mission was to track down and rescue two Indonesian lumberjacks after negotiations for their release failed.
But that is an old whisper.
The need for continuous presence of PNGDF along these parts, boosted by enhanced surveillance capabilities, logistical support and supplies should not be ignored.
At the centre of the borderline are the rugged mountain ranges of Telefomin District that also borders West Papua.
Its 6,306 square miles of land area meets Ambunti in East Sepik, Porgera in Enga and Kopiago in the Hela.
Further to the south, precipitous terrains unfolds down into the giant wetlands of Western, covering 37,911 square miles.
It is smeared with floodplains including Fly River and its tributaries, Strickland and Ok Tedi.
Along these parts, the patrol trails run along the huge Torasi River surrounded by the vast floodplains of Benchbach.
I once visited Benchbach wild life lodge back in 2012 and what I saw left me speechless.
It is an amazing ecosystem of its own, wrapped with an astounding natural beauty.
The Torasi River itself lay motionless as it snaked its way downstream through the enormous floodplain.
Its journey formed deep puddles across the flatland filled with assorted waterlilies and flowery shrubs that stretched for miles.
Over 250 species of resident and migratory water birds ruled these wetlands.
Curlew Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones which breed in Arctic Siberia and Yellow Wagtails, which breed in Eurasia are special visitors every year around.
Deer, wallabies, monitor lizards, crocodiles, cassowaries and range of sea eagles and pygmy geese roamed freely.
All these have scattered in fear due to poaching, neglect and lack of capacity to protect them.

Major Rumints Price and Chief Petty Officer O’Neil having a discussion.

The point here is the task is immense.
We need every attention to appropriately arm all elements of the Force in order to deliver the required security along these trails.
PNGDF is constitutionally mandated to protect and they had been there since birth with or without support.
The harshness of these trails highlight the tasks involved when it comes to coordinating troops, logistical support and supplies along the trails.
This include the overall looking after of a soldier.
In the recent Covid-19 operations, additional strength were deployed into these remote areas to carry out awareness, secure crossing points, maintain surveillance and regulate people and goods.
The PNGDF Joint Task Force Covid-19 Headquarters (JTFHQ) had been coordinating these to support government’s overarching response against the pandemic.
The JTFHQ is commanded by Lt Col Raphael Yapu and assisted by his deputy commander, Major Gabriel Gwaibo.
It is co-established under Force Preparation and Joint Operations branches and is the central coordinating nerve of the entire PNGDF SoE operations with the exclusion of the highlands operation
I know it is not important to mention here.
But if you step inside the JTFHQ building, you will find a small team of military specialists.
They were picked out from across the land, air and sea elements of the Force.
The pictures used here only showed a few who had been working behind the scenes since the lockdown and SoE.
Most are young and energetic officers and soldiers from various operational areas.
They initially met quietly on March 24 behind the closed doors of PNGDF Force Preparation Branch.
That was four days after the first imported case was reported in the country.
Among them are four Australian Defence Staff (ADS) who send their families’ home at the height of the lockdown and stayed back to assist PNGDF during the entire SoE.
I sometimes dragged myself under the building late at night for a hot cup of coffee as they were always there, both day and night.
Their task is something I respect and never ask.
One thing that caught my eye were the words “Resilient and Agile” on the JTFHQ Symbol.
It was also imbedded onto their armbands.
Oxford Dictionary told me resilient means “able to withstand from difficult conditions and is able to recoil or spring back into its original shape.”
Agile means to be able to “move quickly and can adapt to any changes while discharging a certain task.”
I am not sure I can correctly define that for you.
May be it is to do with inappropriate capabilities and relevant support spawned by continuous financial constraints.
But these are struggles you will never hear them complain about.
Even when I asked, I am always referred to a higher ranking officer who reports to another higher ranking officer.
I stopped asking.
All I know is there is something weird about PNGDF.
Despite any tough operational situation, they always find a way out.

  • Alexander Nara is a PNGDF public relations officer.

Mason lends a hand

AN ex-prisoner from Lae’s Buimo Prison has registered a company to help other prisoners find a good life after serving their terms.Called Banis Discharge Prisoners (BDP) Reintegration Services the organisation is a brainchild of Mason, originally from Gulf, who has gone through the prison system and knows what lies ahead for most who walk out of their prison gates.
“While being in prison, I saw a need to help my little brothers giving them second chance in life since majority of prisoners in Buimo below the age of 25 years.
Most of them a young people who still have potential in life but due to life’s struggle and family problems, they end up in prison.”
“Also I have seen some of my brothers after serving prison long term, they struggle to fit in to the community and help their family so I took the initiative to volunteer and work in Buimo and now I’m starting my own company.”

Mason Mai meeting Anna Moka (blue shirt) and another former female inmate discharged last month. – Picture courtesy of MASON MAI.

Seeing many lives lost and young brothers involved in crime, Mai is now making a change to help give second chance to help all discharge inmates who reside from all over Lae City, Morobe Province.
Mai said City Mission will partners with BDP Integration Services to take in juvenile when they are discharge especially 12 years to 18years old.Mai told The National that he was ask by Sergeant Arnold Juvai (welfare officer) and the then commanding officer of Buimo Correctional Institute Felix Namane after completing his term in prison to work as a prisoners reintegration volunteer by helping and sourcing help and support from business houses, government agencies, NGO’s and kind-hearted individuals.In the last three years working as volunteer consultant, Mai raised K40,000 through second hand clothes sales and it has helped in purchasing fuel for operation, buying stationary for the administration, bought play box/guitar strings/PA system and bought presents and gift for discharge prisoners when they are discharge.
“After three years helping and supporting Buimo CI Welfare Section, I have now decided to focus on discharge prisoners since discharge prisoners need support as well so that they can leave a productive life back in the community and not to re-offend and end up back in prison.”
“And also my aim is to help Buimo commander and management to at least try stop mass escapes by providing hope for prisoners and remandees so they can see that there is some form of help when they complete their prison sentence.”
After registering the company in February this year Mai had a brief meeting with Buimo CI commander and management advising them of his company and the purpose and objective in setting up the company for them to understand.The reintegration services is focusing on two strategies to help the prisoners;

  • Reintegration programme for long term serving prisoners, when they’re discharge, they will come stay in our Discharge Transit House so we find work for them or they work in a contract work awarded to us and he/she can get some money and go back home to their families.
  • Crime Prevention programme focused on those month prisoners who always re-offend and end up back in prison, will enroll them in Lae Catholic TVET Training’s so they can learn basic Mechanic, Carpentry, Driving.

House Keeping and Hospitality and Tourism which recently I met Lae Catholic Diocese Bishop and he is very supportive of the idea.
“In May 2020, I started helping 58 discharges with bus/boat fares and in June this month I will be helping 46 discharge inmates and also the coming months I will continue on helping discharge inmates.”
“I’ve got good support feedback from Lae MP-Hon John Rosso who I know will help, I’m also convinced that Morobe Governor will help since all discharge inmates are all from different districts in Morobe Province.”
Thank you to Business Houses and NGO’s that as supported and will support; Panamex Ltd, Lae Biscuit Co, Ahi Hope Foundation, PNG Power, Water PNG, Coca Cola and Lae Media; EMTV, NBC TV, The National, Post Courier and Kristen Radio 89.1
“And a big thank you to CS Commissioner Stephen Pokanis who have notice my work and presented me with an Appreciation Certificate, also supporting me is CS Northern Region Assistant Commissioner Felixie Namane and CS rehabilitation director Insp Eko Mangere.”

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