The new intake of infantry joined the induction company having completed basic training were doing what Infantry does best, standing in a line waiting for the next order. Among the line-up were several veterans who had served elsewhere. These were nominally given corporal status to assist in the establishment of the company.
Major Brian Roberts had seconded Stan Mitty to the office of the commander. Gaining the enviable job of the company runner, when he turned up on the parade ground with a stack of paperwork, it was no surprise. What was surprising was that he was now wearing the rank of Warrant Officer second class, jumping over the top of the two ex-recruit course staff sergeants tasked with the carry-on training for assimilation of the troops. The quicker eyed men voiced their surprise. Stan ordered, “Silence in the ranks.” Which received a harsh look from the two staff sergeants as the last time they had seen him he had been a newly promoted sergeant, and it was contra protocol for anyone to address a troop under the control of another NCO.
The closer Staff Sergeant growled, “Something you need to say to me, Sergeant?”
“Sorry Staff, I have several urgent messages to deliver from Colonel Roberts,” Stan apologised.
“Hell, what’s that beetle doing on your arm and shouldn’t that be Major Roberts?” William asked.
“Pretty isn't it, it is not the first time. Now if you are ready I can deliver some good news,” Stan said with a grin. “Roberts has just been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and has been tasked with raising a battalion.”
“That’s pretty sudden all right, Sir.” The acknowledgement delivered through gritted teeth.
“Yep lots of changes, first the good news, Corporals Jones, Samuels and Wentworth are now to be Sergeants, who will take charge of the three platoons then march them to the barracks to be ready for a parade this afternoon,” Stan advised, “If I may do the honours?”
“Go for it, sir,” Staff William conceded.
“Thank you Staff; Sergeants Jones, Samuels and Wentworth sort your men into three platoons, march them back to the barracks and get them in 'cams' for a parade in one hour. Carry on.” This drill completed; the troops marched off.
“Now for the fun bit, your warrants will be presented at this parade, Congratulations Bill, Tony,” Stan grinned as he shook their hands. “The downside is that the colonel needs three temporary platoon commanders until the rest of the brass turns up, so guess who is that?” That took the smiles off their faces. Stan added, “Only for a month when the rest of battalion arrives; shall we toss coins to see who gets which platoon?”
William said, “I get on well with Jones.”
Tony said, “Wentworth is a sensible man.”
“Excellent since Samuels has been my sergeant before; that’s perfect,” Stan smiled, “When the officers arrive and assume command, we will then revert to CSMs of the three companies.”
“You seem to know a lot for a runner?” Tony commented.
“Yep, Roberts found out my past misdeeds about the same time as his promotion and the orders for the formation of the Battalion; or payback for my past sins.”
“I had thought that your name was familiar, any relation to Colonel Mitty lately of Africa?” Bill asked. “And Warrant Officer Robert Samuels wouldn’t be our boy wonder of the same name?”
“Perhaps, hard to live that down; though that one wore a moustache,” Stan laughed.
“Why did you sign up as a private for Pete’s sake?” Tony asked incredulously, “If you had claimed a commission, it would have set you up as a Captain at least.”
“What and miss all the fun I had at recruit school?” Stan laughed.
“You and Samuels were our biggest irritation; always two steps ahead and mentoring those twerps that usually gave us a reason for yelling,” Bill admitted then conceded, 'Besides making us the top company of the intake.”
“I held a short-term commission in this army but chose not to remind them as I had been seconded to Africa and then transferred to the Rhodesian Army to sort their problems. This choice put me on the nose with our brass, and I only claimed the non-com part of my career. After getting my crown, I went through Scheyville coming out as a second lieutenant pilot then was booted upstairs after I annoyed so many OCs. I was given all the shit jobs to get rid of me, but since Lucky is my middle name; I somehow come up smelling of roses.”
“If what is in the wind is for real, luck will be in great need. So we have a celebrity with us though I guess you are not ready to come out the cupboard just yet,” Bill said.
“Hardly, I would appreciate keeping it on the QT for now. Though sooner or later it will hit the fan and then we will see what happens,” Stan conceded, “For now let’s get this parade on the road. Then we can have the fun of all that wonderful paperwork to convert this training company to a battalion.”
“I suppose there is a manual for that, Canungra has been a while for me, I am a bit rusty. Though knowing the powers that be, whatever we do will be redone by the new RSM,” Tony said.
“Get it right, and you will have the glory. If we stuff up, yours truly will get the blame. You’re laughing either way,” Stan grinned, “I had to rebuild my battalion under fire when battalion HQ was taken out by a surprise attack. My company rescued the survivors; I then ran the Firebase as well until the dust settled. For my sins, their army promoted me to acting Lt Colonel, and I retained command until the UN handed the country to the rebels while I was away at Staff College in the South.”
While this conversation was going on, they paced out and marked the parade ground as previously this had been set up as two large formations and now had to be remarked for three platoons. Lt Col Roberts only required an informal parade to announce the promotions and announce the changes to the unit. At the appointed hour, Stan having briefed the new serjeants, lined everyone up in their places; assuming the role of CSM ordered, “Company, Atten-shun.” Then Stan about turned marched three paces saluted and announced, “Company on parade, Sir.”
Colonel Roberts returned the salute, “Carry on Mr Mitty. Company, Stand at ease, Stand easy.” Stan retired to the edge of number 2 Platoon alongside Sergeant Samuels.
“Men we are here to confer several promotions and to brief you on the immediate future; first the promotions; Staff Sergeant Addams,” Bill marched out saluted and was handed his Warrant, “Congratulations Warrant Officer Second Class William Addams, take charge of your platoon.” And so the process carried on until all the senior NCOs had received their promotions and retired to the new duties.
“Men, over the coming weeks, reinforcements will bolster this company until re-established as a Battalion, at which time you will redeploy as part of an ongoing exercise to the North. This exercise aims to simulate a clandestine deployment. Further briefings as required and any communication is to be done solely through company channels,” Col. Roberts concluded with; “Company Attention. Take charge of your platoons and dismiss.” Roberts returned the salutes and marched off.
The three WO2s turned control over to the new sergeants who in turn dismissed the troops. Stan announced to the SNCOs, “Give them an hour to work on their kit, in the meantime, let us find a comfortable spot, and I will brief you on the next part of the programme.”
When the new platoon commanders had settled down, Stan informed them, “First write a list of junior NCOs and have them march as sections for a while, interspersed with platoon and company drill over the next few weeks; that should get them on familiar terms with their counterparts.”
“What is the big picture?” Rob asked.
“Our neighbour and I don’t mean Tassie, has been eyeing off our ‘empty north’, we have been selected to manoeuvre our troops covertly towards that area as part of routine exercises; by adding an extra platoon to publicised companies training in the area, our platoon is then remaining covertly on-station. You may have noticed that all of those present are single and either experienced or more mature than the general run of recruits.”
“Yep, I thought we had a geriatric intake dumped on us,” Tony laughed.
“I have two lists, one my preferences and the other the Colonel gave me the listing of those qualified to hold the rank. I made my list and hadn’t as yet compared the two. When we have all four I wouldn’t be surprised that they are identical,” Stan said, “As far as I know all experienced personnel have counterinsurgency experience; one reason some drifted off to sleep during those lectures.”
“You included?” Bill asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Damn I thought those glasses with the painted eyes were the go,” Stan responded, ”OK we detail off our best guesses to form sections and meet me back here with the lists and see if there are any surprises. With these in hand, we front the boss and deliver our recommendations.”
It wasn’t long before the boys returned with the lists in hand and settled down to compare. Common to each was the same dozen names and when compared to the original list this also matched. “It seems we are surfeit with riches. Now it only needs us to ratify the selections with the Colonel as he has his list. There are HQ jobs for the extras. You noticed that there were several qualified for Sergeant with all serving at corporal rank,” Stan stated, “With all in hand we now consult Colonel Roberts. He should give us some more information and the direction we are heading,” Saying that the trio adjourned to the Colonel’s office with the lists.
“Good, the new programme in action I see. Now how are the lists going?” Roberts asked.
“No surprises Sir; it seems whoever made up the list knew what they were doing,” Stan affirmed.
“I modestly thank you for the confirmation,” Roberts replied, “The latest intelligence is that we have about four months to position the troops before any movement is likely to happen from the ‘Orange force'. Best guess is about four weeks before the next wet as we wind down our exercises about then; comment?”
“Concur, in their shoes that would give nearly six months to establish a bridgehead with few chances of observation,” Stan said, with the others nodding in agreement.
“We will be with by 3 Brigade for equipment and personnel administration, quartered with 1 Brigade for the headquarters and otherwise we belong to someone else depending on who is asking on a need to know basis. The Qstore will supply tactical signs and number plates, and these will be varied as required.”
“This is going to be fun hiding in the mud for months at a time; on the off chance that ‘Orange’ wants to do something.”
“We have fishing boats in increasing numbers in our waters over the last few years. The few crews caught claim that they were lost when interrogated,” Col. Roberts explained, “We lock them up for six months or so and burn their boat. We don’t see these individuals again; just becoming a bit too often to be a coincidence.”
“I suppose you have heard of the wall maps in their barracks, Irian Selatan in their national colours looks very familiar according to visiting techs instructing them in aircraft maintenance,” Roberts supplied, “Malaysia had several visits which we helped discourage.”
“To paraphrase, If anyone asks; we are Sgt Schultz ‘we know nothings’. If we need something, it will arrive ASAP,” Stan stated.
“Yes right in one,” Roberts confirmed, “I will keep you informed as soon as I learn something.”
The briefing having ended with the details for the next day and they adjourned to the sergeant's mess, where they had a quiet celebration for the promotions. While seven from one unit on the same day was remarkable, they kept it to a low-profile; not hard as all had done it before. Expecting a busy morning, it was off to bed for a good night’s sleep. As Stan and Bob had moved their kit to the senior NCO accommodation, they met in the bathroom first thing before breakfast.
“Goodday Bob sleep tight?” Stan asked, “The first job of the day after the parade; where I hand out the stripes to our corporals, is to conduct interviews with the troops.”
“Run them through a section at a time and just our platoon?” Bob grunted.
“Sounds like the go,” Stan confirmed, “Give them a platoon level drill, then split them into their respective section and have the corporals give a couple of basic lessons. With an hour per section, I expect that I can knock the interviews over before lunch.”
“OK boss, see you later,” Bob confirmed.
Later, when the first interviewee arrived at Stan’s office; Corporal Brian Grant newly promoted. “Brian, Come in and sit down, relax this is just to let you know where I intend to do with this unit,” Stan said, “I expect that your third stripe will arrive before too long. For now; who is your first choice for two i.c.?”
“Private Thomas, then Wallace then Travis, though it’s hair-splitting for any of them,” Brian replied, “As I am used to an engineer section it didn’t occur to me that I had too many.”
“Right, Thomas for two i.c.; The boss may assign Wallace and probably Travis to headquarters,” Stan confirmed, “I have seen your previous record, and like yourself, I am out of specialisation. This posting is no accident, and holds for most of the platoon.”
“Understood, I had a short brief before I signed up; so I am all ears,” Brian replied.
'The unit will be doing a deployment exercise to test the feasibility of moving a large force into position without stirring up too much fuss,' Stan began the brief, '"Orange force" is expected to land a large group with the intent to establish a bridgehead. Our battalion is to detect, engage and disrupt this incursion in concert with other units as required. Intelligence indicates that we have a window of 4 months to reposition our troops, to this end we attach each platoon to an existing company assigned to regular exercises, the platoon then remains behind, reforming each company as necessary.'
“I gather the scenario is that we will be matched manpower-wise and then depend on quick deployment to rebalance the strategic advantage,” Brian suggested.
“Yes, Flexibility will be required, as the likely window approaches we will have practised with these units acting as ‘Orange’ to exercise the regular units,” Stan finished the interview.
The following interviews went quickly until Private Travis came in on the last of the first section.
“Good morning, Private. Care to tell me how you managed to get through the ‘short-arm inspection’?” Stan asked.
A look of consternation came over Travis’ face, “What do you mean?”
“In the last hour, I was able to read the special dossier on yourself and have finally realised when I had seen you. While I was in Senoia, I had a visit from Mossad in the person of two Israeli lieutenants, Saul and Wendy Isaacs,” Stan informed, “You are now Wendell Travis?”
“And you were Lt Colonel Stan Mitty?” Travis asked, then offered, “Apparently the Doc left her glasses at home that day.”
“If we had the same one, she had cold hands when checking for hernias,” Stan commented wryly.
“An arrangement for a separate examination and I have a marvellous prosthetic for other times,” Wendy grinned, “I am Aussie born. After Saul had died during an undercover operation, I returned here and was approached by Army intelligence for this exercise.”
“Welcome to the unit, you certainly had Bob and me scratching our heads trying to remember where we had seen you before,” Stan said, “Sorry to hear about Saul he was a good man.”
“Thanks, he was the best; I made sure that several families missed their men before I returned to Tel Aviv,” Wendy replied with a slight hint of satisfaction.
“Now what to do with you, the platoon commander requires a radio op; how does that sound?” Stan asked.
“Sounds good always wanted to walk around with an arrow pointing to a target on my back,” She answered with a straight face.
“As a cover for my intelligence officer, perhaps; the latest gear we have is unobtrusive and only has a small antenna,” Stan stated, “Starts with two stripes and comes with your quarters near Company HQ.”
“It’s a start, so what is the go, I have had a short brief,” Travis accepted.
“Orange forces are 90% likely to position a bridgehead force in the north within the next six months,” Stan began the brief, “They can pick and choose their arrival point whereas we have to cover about a thousand kilometres. Norforce has recce units patrolling but has a high vulnerability if ambushed. If they find traces, Norforce will withdraw, and we can inspect with the manpower required.”
“Should relieve the boredom, are we going to do much more drill?” She asked, “We don’t have too many cakky footers, and most are up to speed with weapons and equipment.”
“As soon as the rest of my company arrives; a couple of familiarising parades should satisfy the Brass," Stan grimaced. "Then we start positioning North at the beginning of the Dry, I afraid being a peacetime squaddie is why I am often in strife. That goes for the rest of the present company.”
'Noticed that. Of course, setting up my new job will get me out of that, won’t it?' Wendy asked.
'Once I point you at the job, it is your oyster subject to the Colonel and me,' Stan promised.
“Done, when do I start?” Wendy stood shook hands and grinned.
“When you walk out the door, trundle over to HQ; announce who you are and say Stan sent you. The quartermaster has everything you need in a box marked Corporal Travis,” Stan directed.
“Sure aren’t you?” Wendy asked with a raised eyebrow.
“When I picked myself up after reading your ‘authorised eyes only’ dossier I trotted over and wrote your name myself,” Stan laughed.
After Travis had marched out, Sergeant Samuels walked in, and Stan asked, “Have you worked out who Travis is?”
Bob shook his head.
“Remember Senoia?” Stan's next question.
“Those two Israeli lieutenants, Travis was one,” Stan said.
Bob still looked blank.
“Wendell, aka Wendy.” Stan finished the questions.
“What? Hell, we have been in the showers together. Don’t you think I would notice a little detail like that?” Bob said.
“Marvellous little attachment, eh? Fooled me too, not that I take too much notice of other blokes,” Stan said, “Now I know why ‘he’ offered free Brazilians with a blunt knife if anyone got too friendly. The school transferred the blokes involved when they complained. Not that I wouldn’t have sent them packing myself.”
“Yep, so what do you have ‘him’ doing?” Bob asked, shaking his head still unconvinced.
“Radio operator for now and later intelligence officer,” Stan said, “The boss hinted that I would find that combo amongst my men. You could have knocked me over with a feather; it seems we have a Machiavellian running the show. This information goes no further.”
“No drama there, I remember the knife work we did, stretched me more than you do,” Bob marvelled.
Stan snorted, “Hey, I take it easy on an old fellow, I‘ll stretch you twice around the block next time.”
“Ha, in your dreams; start the next group?” Bob said.
“Yep, wheel them in should be no surprises for the rest,” Stan directed, “By their records; a motley bunch of talent that is covering the whole army for trades.”
As predicted the rest of the interviews concluded with no dramas and Stan now had a good idea of his platoon and hoped there would be no more surprises when the rest of the battalion arrived.
Still, by the end of the month, the remainder trickled in, to bring the company up to strength. Five officers and two sergeants had arrived, so Stan was able to assume the CSM position with a sigh of relief; as he had been dreading a note arriving congratulating him on promotion with all the responsibility and drama that entailed. The new additions were experienced Infantry types with the usual run of training associated with that.
HQ contingent included an RSM, 2 IC and all the other battalion personnel. Some noses were out of joint when a lowly CSM had the ear of the Colonel.
“CSM, come into my office,” Captain Reynolds ordered.
Stan did as he was ordered thinking ‘what now?’
“I have just been reviewing your file; it seems your total experience as a CSM is five weeks. And most of that as an acting platoon commander,” Stan nodded, and Reynolds continued, “You may have convinced the board that you knew what you were doing at Canungra, before assuming your position of WO Artificer aircraft with your squadron. After which, you completed a pilot’s course and subsequently had a short-term commission.”
“Yes, sir,” Stan confirmed.
“I left a good CSM behind with five years’ experience; one thing he never did was advise all and sundry, including the battalion commander. When I want advice from you, I will ask for it, mister. For your information, your job is to listen, then pass on proper orders to your SNCOs. You also provide training and guidance to just those; otherwise, carry out my orders,” Reynolds stated loudly. And then asked, “Was it necessary to hospitalise Sergeant Taylor?”
“We were demonstrating unarmed combat, he became over-enthusiastic with the demonstration, and the only move was to dump him. This result would happen on the field if he applied that technique to a hostile opponent,” Stan explained.
“He is the senior instructor in unarmed combat for the regiment, why would he make that mistake?” Reynolds snapped.
“Wouldn't tell me, sir,” Stan said, “Perhaps he was just testing me?”
“Humph, well if you step over the line again, I will see you returned to rank and employment where you can learn at someone else’s expense,” Reynolds stated, “Dismiss.”
“Sir,” Stan did a parade about-turn and marched out rattling the floorboards.
‘My,’ Stan thought as he returned to his desk, ‘someone’s knickers are in a knot.’
The next day a red-faced Reynolds directed Stan to follow him to a quiet spot.
Seething Reynolds said, “I have just had a bollocking from Col Roberts, as did the other commanders. It seems that you are the army’s golden-haired boy and that there is a quartermaster’s desk in Hobart with the name ‘Mud’ on it which will be my new address if I stuff up.”
“I will work hard to ensure that doesn’t happen as my next job would be your tea boy,” Stan said, stifling a grin.
“You wouldn’t be related to Colonel Mitty, by any chance?” Reynolds asked suspiciously.
“My father,” Stan admitted.
Probing a bit more, “No, Rhodesia couple of years back.”
“That was me,” Stan conceded.
“OK,” Reynolds digested this, “Samuels related to General Samuels?”
“His Father, Robert Samuels was Staff Sergeant Royal Engineer I.E.D. expert before joining me in Rhodesia.”
“This Corporal Travis; not going to come out of the cupboard and go all ‘girlie’ on me?” Reynolds asked.
“Not likely, ex-Israeli army captain; expert comms and Intelligence,” Stan said.
“Would it be too much to guess that the extra crew, including myself, are there for camouflage?” Reynolds asked.
“I was starting to think that myself otherwise it would look very smelly for re-entry to go straight to captain.” Stan conceded, “Set all types of bells ringing.”
“Hmm, this exercise may be rather full-on than rumoured?” Reynolds asked.
“80% come July, all the nines within two years unless there is a regime change,” Stan said.
“Right, Roberts said to listen to you, I would appreciate that you were subtle about it,” Reynolds said.
“Right you are sir; I will keep you briefed before it is official so that you know as much as I do,” Stan said.
“These two conversations didn’t happen, CSM,” Reynolds affirmed, “Carry on.”
“Sir,” Stan saluted and returned to the task at hand.
The orders to move came through with each platoon leapfrogging up the coast with Company HQ bringing up the stragglers. Because fitting in with other unit's movements was a priority rather than speed; it was the best part of six weeks before arriving in the Darwin area. Practice at blending into the bush and infantry minor tactics were carried out at every opportunity.
Travelling with Captain Reynolds became routine, combining intelligence reports and counter-insurgent tactics.
‘Orange’ was sword rattling over all sorts of obscure offences with all their neighbours indiscriminately; the RAAF flying the F111 direct to the USA and taking out the precision bombing championship always seemed to bring out the most angst. Reports of incursions into East Timor and Papua New Guinea were on the increase as were the fishing boats leaving signs of visits in the North.
Passing through Darwin, Col Roberts gathered the commanders with Stan and attended a briefing with Lt Col George as to the purpose and scope of our presence. “HQ moves in with Norforce as supernumeraries; the infantry platoons position themselves to provide rapid response task forces on call. The specialist platoons to be spread, filling out the Norforce patrols,” Col Roberts suggested.
“How definite is the ‘Orange’ threat?” Col George asked.
“Currently, 85% rising every week up till four weeks before the Wet. Then it will fade back to the commencement of the Dry where it will again increment to 95% at the same period as now,” Corporal Travis supplied, “With the same pattern is the second year but now rising to definite. Subject to the regime, changing or detecting our presence.”
“Why are those timings significant?” Col George asked somewhat bemused that a junior NCO would be supplying this assessment.
“The routine exercises wind down about then when everyone evacuates before the Wet, even Norforce patrols reduces their activity,” Travis said, “Once ‘Orange’ gets enough troops in they can sit through the Wet ready to expand as soon as it starts to dry. No exercises are programmed 3 or 4 weeks either end of the Dry; Norforce recommences patrols about the same time.”
“What is the consensus for their next move?” Col George asked.
“Capture several ports and mining heads, hold the workers as hostages then claim sovereign rights because ancestors fished there,” Travis said, “The mining companies perhaps approached to continue operations giving some legitimacy to their occupation. Reinforcements by the planeload would be arriving daily together with heavier equipment by ship.”
“Once established, it would take a full-scale war to dislodge them. 'Orange' can handle ten times the attrition rate that we can,” Col George commented, “Naturally I have been in part of the loop and have made preliminary deployment plans based on having three companies assimilating into our structure.”
“As soon as the troops are ready, each company will deploy as designated and the reaction forces will position as close as practicable to the more vulnerable targets,” Col Roberts decided.
“If they note the extra units, they have the wherewithal to engage other targets, which Australian forces would then have to deploy more troops to protect,” Stan added, “Our allies could be discouraged from participating by closing the sea-lanes through their archipelago citing pirate activity.
“And if we succeed in disrupting their plans?” Col George asked.
“They will probably cut their losses, deny any involvement and blame it on a rogue element,” Stan suggested.
The teams to accompany the Norforce teams were assigned, with Stan, Wendell and Bob forming one to see the format and remedy any shortcomings. After several hours winding their way through scenic bushland and coastline via remote bush roads, Stan commented, “And to think they pay us to do this. We must remember to emphasise the deprivations or everyone will want to come.”
At one estuary where some activity had occurred on previous visits, the team disembarked and did a foot recce to see if further signs were evident. Sgt Domige pointed to evidence of grooves from fishing boats; they were still there somewhat eroded by wind and water. Footprints in the mud further up the creek were consistent with bare feet as you would expect real fishers. Five seconds thought would also give the fix by removing boots. “I counted four men when the tracks were fresh mostly they did as normal, filling water casks except for one who did an extensive wander, stopping at likely campsites before rejoining his crew and leaving,” Domige assessed.
“How many similar sites are there?” Travis asked.
“We have counted about a dozen on our run, some visited more often than others,” Domige supplied, “The favourite ones we inspect each time, removing our traces before moving on, about three seem to be in that category.”
“How close to mines and their associated ports?” Travis asked.
“Two of the most popular; which we will visit later in the day,” Sgt Domige answered, “Of course one is unlikely because visiting locals were wearing footwear, it being closer to the port.”
“OK, it’s your show, lead on,” Stan said.
After rounding a couple of headlands, we arrived at one of the busy spots, parking the vehicles well out of sight the party preceded cautiously being careful not to leave traces. Remaining standing upon the leaf litter, the Sgt pointed out the signs commenting that they were fresh.
“There is about a dozen this time, with three leaving with the boat,” Sgt Domige whispered. Then louder, “Nothing here we will move on. Tom’s probably wondering what is keeping us.”
Using field signals, he indicated not to look around and move back to the vehicles. Arriving near the trucks, he commented, “There is a small party hanging around, not close enough to do anything, I doubt that they would start something as long as we keep moving. When well clear, I will send a duff signal covering a coded message,” He grinned, “Looks like I scoop the pool being the first to spot them.”
After putting what he thought was useful distance pulled over and reached for the radio. “Norforce 1, Norforce Foxtrot sitrep, road clear, a bag of green fruit without spots waiting on return, over.”
“Roger last, Norforce 1 out.”
“Norforce foxtrot out,” Switching off the radio Bert informed the others, “Bit obvious for an English speaker that was Green site; that I had seen signs of a small group but didn’t see anyone.”
“The next step is a platoon level recce coming from the port direction seeing if it cuts any sign,” Stan affirmed.
“Yeah believe I was at that brief too,” Bert rolled his eyes to indicate not to teach him to suck eggs.
Stan just laughed.
The radio crackled, “Norforce Foxtrot, Norforce 1, CSM locate caterpillar before returning, over.”
“Norforce Foxtrot, wait out.” Stan thought a minute then transmitted, “Norforce Foxtrot, Wilco, over.”
“Norforce 1 out.”
At the question unasked, “It seems that I need to grow my moustache for when I return to base,” Stan said, “The ‘why’, I suppose it will have to wait. Bob, you should try as well.”
“Ha, my 5 o'clock shadow beats your week old,” Bob returned.
“Good thing young Travis doesn’t need one as well, beats me that you are old enough for the hooks?” Bert grinned running his fingers through the forest, hiding most of his face.
And got a bite from Travis, “After you set a couple of geriatric sergeants on their bums, they put a couple in your Christmas stocking.”
“Ho, ho, ho, and they let you keep them?” Bert laughed, “I use bigger splinters to pick my teeth.”
“Better believe it, caught me by surprise that one did,” Bob said solemnly.
“Okay back to work, will we carry on or meet the recce force?” Bert asked.
“Carry on, or our involvement becomes too evident,” Stan decided.
“That is how my orders read, so let’s away. We visit another two likely spots and then camp for the night,” Bert agreed, “Besides if we want more than bully beef, we also need to wet a couple of lines.”
“This ordeal gets worse and worse, how much more can a bloke stand?” Stan fake groaned.
After surveying the last two sites and finding them undisturbed, a camp was set by the several junior soldiers, while the seniors dealt with the tedious job of catching fish for tea. It wasn’t long that the intrepid fishermen returned with enough fish to feed the party, coincidentally as long as it took to set the tents and dig the latrine. As the bivouac was semi-tactical with potential insurgents in the area, piquet duty was set and ‘lights out’ at sunset. This caution was necessary as the three vehicles, and associated equipment would be a valuable plum to pick. Because they were supposed to be on a regular patrol, they couldn’t hide so selected an area with plenty of open approaches so that surveillance was easy from the camp.
Settling back after a scrumptious repast of fresh fish, Bert commented, “I had heard rumours of the boy's prowess with a knife, hell if it is up to his fork standard, you have my total respect. Where do you put it?”
“Travis is the champion eleventh man at the mess tent,” Bob declared solemnly.
Bert’s eyebrows went up, “Why the eleventh?”
“The first or the last ten get to fling the grub and then have to wait until everyone else has theirs before they eat,” Bob clarified.
That got a chuckle as all cleaned up and stored the gear away. And the rest of the setup of the Bivvy was completed. After digging several gun pits with the Piquet manning the LMG, which commanded the approaches. The night proceeded quietly, and when the party ‘stood to’ pre-dawn, nothing out of the ordinary had occurred; only a few kangaroos were enjoying the open grassland. Not a disappointment according to Bert though.
After packing up and restoring the campsite to the pristine condition they found it, the patrol moved off, for another two days trek to the point where the next patrol would be met to compare notes. At the next routine ‘sitrep’ included was ‘Bag of fruit waiting at base’ which was welcome news, indicating that their company was entertaining a group of ‘errant fishermen’, and no doubt having fun trying to explain their presence.
At the rendezvous, the two patrols compared notes and yes there was reconnoitre activity indicated at several points on both circuits. With a return trip to the base, then a weekend off before rerunning the same course, this meant that each site of interest would be visited four times over three weeks. By the time the patrol had returned to base, Bob and Stan had grown the required moustache and now looked like their African tour.
“What’s up?” Stan asked Col Roberts when they were alone.
“It seems rumours have you here in the Aussie Army, how would you like to be in three places at once?”
“What’s planned?” Stan asked
“That WO2 Artificer Mitty marches into 171 Sqn Holsworthy according to the Army Gazette, the mining company delivers the Colonel Mitty Security Company with suitable fanfare in a business jet, and there is no reference to you at this address.”
“Who is coming with me?” Stan inquired.
“Warrant Officer Samuels, Captain Isaacs and a couple of the senior sergeants to make up an inspection team. The party then tours the mining camps, drilling rigs and ports to provide security risk assessment and advice to remedy shortfalls. As a side event to the extravaganza, the military risk evaluation and recommendations could also happen; then after roaring around the countryside annoying the crap out of all and sundry, the party exits stage right to great fanfare.”
“Sounds fun, we fly to the East at night, camp up in safari rig to return bright and early the next day?” Stan paraphrased.
“Yes, after a couple of days to finish preparations. The mining consortium having some problems with petty theft and appraised of the Orange threat, so their security is keen to co-operate,” Roberts said, “That bag of fruit turned out to be lemons, actually boat people aiming to enter the mining area after jobs or if sprung claim asylum. They found a food cache which they were enjoying when nasty army guys surrounded them. About halfway through your little performance, they will be handed over to immigration as a package found wandering on the track.”
“Oh, any info on the how and why?” Stan asked.
“Perhaps a test of our patrols using them as cats-paws, there was more gear hidden a bit better; experts rendered the ammunition dud and the site restored to original condition with tell-tales,” Roberts supplied.
“Well that confirms the likelihood that is one of the prime landing areas,” Stan commented, “I will go and round up my crew and give them the good news.” Saluting as he left.
Finding Bob at the mess hall, Stan asked him to gather the designated party and meet back at Stan’s office. Stan was waiting when Bob ushered Travis, Jones and Wallace into the office. “Take a pew, how would you like to take part in a little pantomime?”
“I doubt that choice is involved, what’s the deal?” Bob asked, having been in the services for a long enough time.
“Only a couple of flights, step off the plane to thunderous welcome then tour around the area swanning at Mining Company expense,” Stan explained.
“And the catch is?” Bob asked.
“We all come out of the closet. Then tell the world that Colonel Mitty is here to save the day for the benefit of Big business,” Stan delivered with a poker face, “Captain Isaacs will need to dust off her heels and stick on a wig. The rest of us in safari/flying suits suitable for a super security firm.”
“What’s the game? I have had to work hard for this role,” Travis demanded.
“It’s an elaborate smokescreen to place all of us somewhere else rather than part of a unit with a covert purpose,” Stan explained.
“Who’s this Isaacs never heard of her?” Jones asked.
“That would be me; I hope this doesn’t spoil all my hard work?” Wendy grumbled, “And no way will I be in heels for fieldwork.”
At this, Jones and Wallace were flabbergasted, even disturbed Bob.
“What?” Wendy pulled a face, “Could you think of a better disguise amongst Neanderthals?”
“This little information doesn’t leave this room. Meet Captain Wendy Isaacs a.k.a. Corporal Wendell Travis,” Stan introduced her, “The real purpose is to muddy the waters for this operation and puts us in the best position to see all of the facilities.” Stan explained, “If the idea of good food and soft beds are against your principles, we can carry ration packs and sleeping bags. I will even throw in some sand, twigs and ants.”
“Wouldn't want to put you to that much trouble,” Bob said, then asked, “When and where, etcetera?”
“Two days from now we fly over to Townsville on the night gravel truck. Later the next morning, we then go to the international terminal, climb aboard an executive jet and fly back to be welcomed by the Mining mob. Next to be loaded up in suitable non-military 4x4s and proceed on the circuit of facilities,” Stan described the programme, “Should take about a week then we deliver an assessment of their security and where they need to lift their game. A copy plus a real-time intelligence assessment handed to Colonel George under the counter. Colonel Mitty et al. then flies out to create havoc elsewhere around the world.”
“Then what?” Asked Bob.
“We come back individually by whatever means available, not in a group as it would smell rather fishy that five people the same size etcetera turned up here the next day,” Stan finished with, “Any problems?”
“Apart from my secret being out, no dramas,” Wendy commented. Everyone else nodded.
“All settled, Caribou inter depot departs 1700 hours Wednesday. See you then,” Stan announced.
The men left, leaving Wendy with Stan, “Whose bright idea is this one?” Wendy accused.
“Not me,” Stan said, raising his hands in mock defence, “Roberts dropped it on me half an hour ago; the only hint was the moustache.”
“Well it is going to take more than a week’s wandering eyebrow to carry this off, I can hardly go to Target then buy frillies and war paint, looking like this?” Wendy stated.
“I believe that your old civvies’ kit will be waiting in Townsville,” Stan offered.
“I should have known once the uniform was on there goes common sense out the window for the powers that be,” Wendy flung over her shoulder as she stalked out.
The party arrived at the air force section of the airport and climbed aboard the Caribou, pointed at the luxurious business class, these being canvas jump seats. The loadmaster yelled a couple of directions regarding safety and to stay put unless told otherwise and no he wasn’t a bloody Hostie. “When I say it’s OK, you can make a brew and have a couple of bikkies, clean up after; and yes this is the invite that the general gets.” He waited expectantly for the applause, which consisted of fake groans and chuckles, with the comment, "A real Hostie doesn't have hairy legs." He then stomped off to his take-off position up forward.
Imagine the noisiest, roughest and boring flight you have ever had and rest assured that that was luxury compared to the ‘Gravel Truck’ officially known as a Caribou. All good things come to an end, and the party disembarked and boarded the cars waiting at the air force base to be whisked them to an ordinary hotel. All formalities completed, with each assigned a room. Stan settled into his room and scouted the wardrobe. Hanging in its glory was a tasteful pilot’s flying suit discreetly emblazoned with Mitty security surmounted with Rhodesian pilot’s wings on the left breast and name tag reading Lt Col Stan Mitty attached to the right. It was a functional though upper-class bush pilots rig. ‘That will do the trick.’
Once settled in for a good night’s rest, it didn't seem long before announcing breakfast was in 15 minutes.
A quick shower, shave and moustache trim later, Stan resplendent as the modest executive descended into the dining room to the whistles of the men; while hardly peacocks the sergeants were dressed for the task. As Wendy was now filling the role of femme fatale; she made an entrance, in stunned silence as the boys wouldn’t have recognised her without prior knowledge. Dressed in a stylish flight suit with requisite name tags, she filled all the right places better than Corporal Travis. To a man, all surged to their feet and practically ripped the chair apart to provide a seat for the damsel.
“Thank you, kind sirs,” giggled Wendy entirely in character, “Brush up OK when I put my mind to it, eh?” This display brought schoolboy awkwardness to hilarious heights, suddenly tongue-tied, then firmly said, “And just in case anyone gets ideas,” Wendy’s hand moved and became full of a wicked-looking knife, disappearing as quick. “Marvellous what you can hide in this rig.”
Having settled into breakfast, Stan laid out the day’s programme. In an hour, limousines would arrive, which would take them to the domestic terminal where they would board the jet. After an hour flight would arrive at Darwin Domestic Terminal to be greeted by the entire mining executive, then, we form a convoy and start the tour. “All laid on, won’t even have to think until we are in the cars.”
After breakfast, Stan escorted Wendy back to her room, mainly to comment on her new disguise. “Pardon me for mentioning it; you seem to have put a little weight on in the right places?” Stan offered.
“Extraordinary kit I have, to be technical I have to pad just a little, here and there, though I will never make Twiggy jealous,” Wendy laughed, “Danny La Rue taught me a couple of pointers to hint rather than overdo.”
“And you have Israeli pilot’s wings? Don’t upstage the boss,” Stan advised.
“A girl of many talents, but there is no danger of doing that to the Great Stan Mitty in all his glory,” Wendy said straight-faced.
“Touché. This little tour is going to be great fun with two of the troupe carrying pins to deflate my ego. Bob takes every opportunity as it is,” Stan responded then with a dramatic pose, “The secret to my success is to surround myself with the greatest talent and expertise. Not hard to look good when everyone gives you a boost and mind you no one has ever suffered from doing so as I ensure all get the credit they deserve.”
“So you say; my talent is to remain invisible, even being glammed up hides my brain,” Wendy returned, “Hence the discreet blond wig.”
“OK, see you out front in ten,” Stan finished.
“I’ll be there with bells on,” Wendy assured.
When the party had assembled in the foyer replete with luggage and berets carrying the CMS logo; no bells were evident, her beret tilted at an angle. With no dramas, limo and jet transported the team to the Darwin terminal for the formal welcome. Once officially greeted they were assigned cars to form the convoy. Awarded the second Land Cruiser, Wendy, Bob and Stan relaxed for the drive to the first checkpoint in the programme. As a surprise, the driver was Sgt Bert Domige in civvies.
“I see that I have real Celebs today?” Bert had commented as he loaded the kit bags in the back. “You look just like a particular WO that I drove last week.”
“Yep and you’re in drag today as well?” Stan riposted.
“My day job between reserve tours. I get some strange passengers at times, who’s the cutie?” Bert asked, pushing his luck.
“Your favourite knife and fork boy; O man of the forested chin,” Quipped Wendy sweetly.
It was a good thing that Bert wasn’t driving yet as said whiskers nearly hit the ground, peering closely he commented, “Yeah and a captain yet? Should I address you as Ma’am?” He asked.
“Only if you want a close shave; which is well overdue,” Wendy grinned wickedly, “Wendy will do as I am only that by courtesy here; yes, I have held the rank.”
“Well beats me, and Bob is now a warrant officer. Well, well, the strangest sights when you don’t have a gun,” Bert said shaking his head, “Should be an exciting week or so, all aboard let’s get this rock show on the road.”
The convoy proceeded first to the docks in Darwin, then gradually worked the way to the south-west via the main roads directly to mine heads and associated ports. As the Norforce patrols used the rough roads on the coast, this expanded the survieled area. The prime task was assessing the security of the infrastructure and possible approaches. Typically each was set up to facilitate production and thus was very vulnerable to insurgent attack. The security personnel concerned mainly with preventing petty theft and unauthorised persons entering dangerous areas.
From the conversations with Bert, it became plain that he had two jobs going, one as a driver and the other providing clandestine reconnaissance reports to Col. George. After completing the rounds taking ten days, the convoy returned to a hotel where after refreshing they settled into writing reports to all clients. Most of it bad news and sure to be perceived as an impossible task to implement; still the primary aim had been met, that is the approaches, and they mapped the possible intercept points and potential ambush sites. The bad news was that the facilities were indefensible by any determined attack.
Consulting with the two colonels, Stan suggested that regular patrols were needed in the area to maintain a buffer zone around the more vulnerable facilities. Having delivered the reports to their respective clients, Stan gathered the team waved goodbye to his ‘adoring’ fans (two little old ladies and the baggage handler) boarded the jet and resumed his odyssey to remedy the wrongs of the world. “Hey, that was fun, eh?” Stan announced, “Typical thanks to the pied piper, pick his brains and then wave him goodbye.”
“Have had a worse time, gradually work our way back to the coal face?” Bob asked.
“Yep, between 1 to 7 days, I’ll take the quick return to get my finger back on the pulse,” Stan said.
“I will take the week as I need at least that time if I have to get my hormones back in sync to resume being Corporal Wendell,” Wendy stated flatly.
“OK take as long as you need; you other three draw straws or whatever,” Stan decided.
“OK boss, see you when we get back,” Bob said with everyone splitting off to their rooms.