Lt REBECCA PASSINGAN tells of how a section of a PNGDF platoon uncovered a border marker that had been lost to thick jungle along the southern PNG-Indonesia border.
BLACK clouds hung low in the sky, foretelling the likely danger that was ahead.
It was hot and humid and unbearable as we were anticipating rain.
We took on a 20-minute boat ride upstream to an isolated bush camp before we set off on the bush track to the purported location.
Five hundred metres into the track, we were greeted by lush, thick tropical rain forest.
We trekked on, twigs snapping under our boots, sweat running down our faces but we were set for this journey and there was no turning back.
I was in the company of members of 6 section of my 8 platoon.
We were all in marching order with our weapons, webbing and packs on our backs with our rations for the two day’s patrol.
After three hours of walking under the huge canopy of the thick tropical rain forest we could smell the rain and soon we felt the rain drops on our foreheads. Mother Nature couldn’t hold back the heavy weight anymore. The heavens had opened and started pouring out the blessings.
Because of the thick canopy, only few rain drops fell to the forest floor. But the humidity was unbearable. The thick umbrella like canopy also prevented the sun and the forest floor was very moist, providing the perfect haven for these leeches.
It is my first border deployment since graduating from the Joint Forces Academy in Lae and taking up my posting as a young platoon commander at the 1st Battalion Royal Pacific Islands Regiment’s Charlie Company or fondly known as the Gecko tribes.
Everyone was in marching order (weapon, webbing and packs). After almost eight hours of walking and covering almost 15km in from the waterfront, we stopped as night was approaching to set up our camp. It had been a long day but we have not reached our target and achieved our mission. Tomorrow was another but for now we had to rest and regain our energy to prepare for the next day.
Early the next day while the forest was still cool and before the sun rose, we set off on our mission. It was 8am and we were all in patrol order with our webbing and weapons. Morale was at a manageable level as fatigue was taking its toll among the section members. We left all our packs in the camp guarded by our guides. The guides were locals from the Aiambak area.
After three and a half hours of walking and fighting leeches along the way with the assistance of local guides and Aiambak councilor Owen Zumoi, we found the monument. It was exactly 11.30 am on April 30 when we sighted the monument.
The monuments along the border mark the land boundary between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and they stretch from Wutung along the northern PNG-Indonesia border down to Western along the southern PNG-Indonesia border. The responsibility for the upkeep of the monuments lies with the Border Development Authority but over the years PNGDF troops on deployment to the border have assumed that responsibility to maintain the monuments
The weather was the same and even with no rain it was still very humid. Monument 11.3 lies approximately 20km southwest of the nearest station, Aiambak.
We rested and then wasted no time to clear the bush around the monument. Then we began the tedious task of cleaning the monument from creepers and dirt that had accumulated for the last 36 years since the monument was erected.
After that we painted the monument.
Stepping off at 1.30pm, we arrived at the camp between 4.30 and 5pm.
The night was still, like the calm before the storm. It was cloudy and dark with no winds, and we thought it would rain but it did not.
As a platoon commander, it was my first border deployment. But the discovery of monument 11.3 made it extra special.
To us it was a huge achievement, both for the platoon and the individuals.
Since the monument was erected in 1984 it was lost in the thick low-lying forest of the PNG-Indonesia border. No one has ever visited it since and numerous attempts to find it either failed or stopped short.
That night as I lay in my hoochie, I savored the memories of the last two days.
We had crept through hunting tracks, waded through ankle to waist height swamps that were possible crocodile-breeding grounds, swatted huge black buzzing mosquitoes and thumb-thick leeches. Fatigue took the best of us however we managed to find the lost monument (11.3).
And it was all worth it.
The next day, we began the long eight hour’s walk back to the waterfront. When we reached the waterfront, it was a blissful feeling. It was time to go back to the platoon headquarter at Aiambak station.
As infantry men, regardless of the weather, and terrain, we had achieved the higher intent.