NEW PNG Defence Force head, Brigadier-General Francis Agwi, is a breath of fresh air to the wives and children of serving men.
He has begun his first month in office with a statement like none other before him.
On his first tour of Pacific Infantry Battalion barracks in Igam outside Lae, Brig-Gen Agwi met with the wives of servicemen and promised them a better deal.
“Thank you for your support and contribution to the career of your husbands,” he told the wives.
“A good relationship at home is carried forward by the husbands into the workplace.”
How so very true.
How so very appropriate a gesture and about time too.
The PNGDF has been, for far too long, a “men’s army”. The wives and children have been neglected big time.
Nowhere has this been more revealing then when servicemen have died while serving or after they have resigned.
Widows have cried to the PNGDF hierarchy for their husbands’ entitlements literally for decades. It has been doubly worse for the widows and children of ex-servicemen who are owed their entitlements.
Perhaps from this promise, Commander Agwi can take action in this particular area.
Commander Agwi has promised action in the area of housing – pending availability of that perennial dilemma: money.
All the barracks around the country have houses that were handed over by the Australian colonial administration. In the years since independence these barracks and accommodation quarters have not been renovated or serviced properly.
Soldiers living with their families in such dilapidated quarters are expected to present themselves impeccably. It is hard on the morale of even the hardiest soldier.
Commander Agwi next promised action in the area of domestic violence and particularly wife beating.
This has been an open secret in the army.
He said the PNGDF has a zero tolerance approach on wife beating and other forms of abuse but in the same breath acknowledged its prevalence over the last 34 years.
Perhaps that is about to change today.
“I don’t like abuse in the family,” the Commander said. “Only sick people do that.”
Quite so! Quite so!
Domestic violence reached new heights during the 15 years of the Bougainville crisis.
Soldiers lived away from their families for long periods at a time. Jealousies about extramarital affairs developed at both ends – the soldier or the wife – which led to violence and often marriages breaking down.
Soldiers came off the battle zone hugely traumatised from the killing and seeing their friends fall in battle.
There was inadequate counselling for such people or none at all. The result often led to increased bouts of alcoholism and/or wife abuse.
Often soldiers returned with sexually transmitted disease or worse, HIV, and passed it on to their wives. This created another level of friction and further violence by guilt-driven men.
All this, we have heard said, but it has never been confirmed in any survey. Perhaps the new direction the commander has taken can lead to a survey of this nature for the future peace and harmonious family relations within the force.
The new commander has declared that as a way to crack down on domestic violence, he would allow the police to handle these cases. This is another first as the military has always prided itself in policing its own affairs. To allow the civilian police authority to handle law breakers would be a break with tradition and is to be commended.
Finally, Commander Agwi has promised wives he will crack down on extra-marital affairs and on polygamy in the army.
Men in uniform and in tip-top physical condition are attractive to women. In the army extra-martial affairs and polygamy abound.
The soldiers’ wives asked him to also address extramarital relationships engaged in by soldiers when on operations away from home.
Commander Agwi has promised to deal with this dilemma by recognising only the first wife and children who are registered with the Defence Force.
This might, from a strictly military standpoint, sound like nothing to do with operational readiness, about re-equipping the force and about resizing the force, which are all urgent needs at present, but we would vouch that change must start first at home.
Along with the breath of fresh air comes a new approach to tackling the problem of how to grow the force, from the home front. Now for the big question: Can action follow the words?