By Alexander Nara
(PNG Defence Force Media)
IT was late last Tuesday afternoon when I bumped into PNGDF Task Force Covid-19 Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Raphael Yapu along the corridors of the defence force headquarters.
He was busy on the phone issuing some orders to someone. He signaled for me to wait.
The military “language” he was using on the phone told me he was talking to a unit commander in an area of operation somewhere in the country.
I out of respect stepped to the side and waited because I know information sensitivity and security in the military must always be respected.
Their discussions diverted to the food rations for the soldiers, their personal protective equipment, supplies and logistical support.
Since Covid-19 arrived in the country, all area commanders were told to prepare troops and plan for the worst case scenario, even the recovery phase.
They were directed by the Defence Force commander Major-General Gilbert Toropo to stay in contact with their chain of command and to be prepared to assist when needed.
The military’s Covid-19 taskforce was formed on March 24 which according to Major-General Toropo included planners.
He explained on the http://www.pngdf.org website that the Force “has a range of capabilities ready to react in the government’s Covid-19 efforts and will be committed whenever and wherever required”.
If you drive through the gate to Murray Barracks in Port Moresby, you will come across a hump on the road. On the left you will see the taskforce operation centre.
The building has been modified and provided an upgraded server network and a transceiver radio system which can connect one to areas where phones cannot reach.
“ The military language he was using on the phone told me it was talking to a unit commanders in an area of operation somewhere in the country.”
Surveillance has been established around the country as the military intelligence works overtime to identify high-risk areas and collects information to help planning.
Specialists are included as planners and liaison officers.
The padre is also there in the front office ready for a quick chat or to share the word of God. The military’s motto is “Putting God First” anyway.
The taskforce is aligned to the force preparation and joint operations branches which is involved in border and security operations in the highlands.
The force preparation branch is headed by Colonel Lari Opa while the joint operations command is headed by Lt-Col Tony Aseavu.
Yapu, the land operations director, commands the troops and their involvement in the government’s response against the pandemic.
The major areas of operations include the forward operation base in Kiunga, Vanimo and the Highlands.
Major-General Toropo had thanked the Australian Defence Force for assisting the PNG Covid-19 military operation.
It assisted with planning and operation delivery, additional logistics support, transportation of personnel, essential stores, and the funding of the taskforce Covid-9 centre.
“They did so while separated from their families who have been repatriated back to Australia in the course of the Covid-19 lockdown.”
This week, members of the taskforce were issued arm bands as part of the approach towards the fight against the “enemy”.
It was getting darker as I stood there waiting patiently waiting as Lt-Col Yapu continued his conversation on the phone, giving directives and also listening.
I know I would be missing the last bus home if I stayed longer. So I made a sign to him to let him know we would talk the next day. He was still on the phone when I walked out of the gate.