“The Force has a range of capabilities ready to react in the government’s Covid-19 efforts and will be committed when and wherever required”
- Chief of Defence Force, Major General Gilbert Toropo
PORT MORESBY - It was getting late last Tuesday afternoon when I bumped into PNGDF task force Covid-19 commander, Lieutenant Colonel Raphael Yapu, in the corridors of PNG Defence headquarters.
He was busy on the phone issuing orders to someone and made a sign for me to wait.
The strange military codes and abbreviations used over the phone told me it is a unit commander in an area of operations somewhere in Papua New Guinea.
The discussions moved to soldiers’ food rations, personal protective equipment, other supplies and logistical support.
Under no obligation to know, I stepped outside and waited. Information sensitivity and security within the military should always be respected.
The fast changing world of technology has created a breeding place for information terrorism where fabrication, modification and mishandling of defence information presents a dangerous threat to the nation’s security and sovereignty.
As I waited, the last of the twilight slowly faded and a few lights along the corridor switched on.
Since Covid-19 snaked its way across the country, all area PNGDF commands were directed to prepare troops and plan for the worst case scenario.
Personnel in all units and across all areas of operations were directed by Major General Toropo to stay in contact with their chain of command and to be prepared to assist as needed.
PNGDF Task Force Covid-19, established on 24 March contained a team of dedicated planners, was activated by the callout invoked by parliament on 2 April.
“The force has a range of capabilities ready to react in the government’s Covid-19 efforts and will be committed when and wherever required,” Toropo said.
If you happen to drive through the gun gate at Murray Barracks, you bump into a hump on the road that will surely slow you down.
On your left, is the PNGDF Covid-19 task force operations centre, diligently assisting the government’s response to the pandemic.
This is the central coordinating centre across the entire PNGDF spectrum - all elements and units focussing on the fight against the unseen threat.
The building’s interior has been modified and equipped with new equipment including upgraded server networks and transceiver radio systems that connect to remote areas of the country where phones cannot reach.
Surveillance has been established across the country at a high level as PNGDF intelligence officers scan society, identifying high risks areas and collecting information to shape planning strategies and counterattack schemes.
Specialists have been identified and deployed as planners and liaison officers to provide operational and planning support to agencies managing the Covid-19 response including provincial governments as well as deployed PNGDF units.
The chaplain, Captain Norman Kakeni, is in the front office as you step inside and always ready to chat, share a joke and discuss the Word of God. ‘Putting God First’ is the PNGDF’s commanding motto.
Within all this activity, the logistics and supplies section, the core of operations, works around the clock to make sure they do not miss a beat or a deadline.
The task force preparation branch is headed by Colonel Lari Opa and the joint operations command is headed by Lieutenant Colonel Tony Aseavu while Lieutenant Colonel Raphael Yapu, also the director for land operations, has been tasked to command the troops and their involvement in support of the government’s pandemic response.
The major areas of operations include bases in Kiunga, Vanimo and the Highlands.
Major General Toropo has also acknowledged and thanked the Australian Defence Force and its defence cooperation program staff for their generous support over recent months.
He confirmed that the ADF has assisted in providing assistance with planning and operations delivery, logistics support, transportation and funding of the task force Covid-19 centre.
“They did so whilst separated from their families who have repatriated back to Australia in the course of the Covid-19 lockdown,” Toropo said.
It was getting darker as I stood waiting as Lieutenant Colonel Yapu to finish on the phone.
As the time for the last bus home was approaching, I made a sign letting him know we could talk the next day.
He was still on the phone as I walked out of the gate.
You can access the PNGDF website here www.pngdf.org
Notes on photographs:
Top - A morning parade before starting the day’s activities - Covid-19 deputy task force commander Maj Gwaibo Gabriel about to hand over the parade to Lt Col Yapu at a recent morning parade at joint task force COVID-19 Headquarters
Lower - Distributing armbands to the task force team at the JTFHQ - Covid-19 task force commander Lt Col Yapu tying an armband on Maj Kagena Velmore while Maj Jacob John and Maj Kalvale Chris look on. Yapu is assisted by his deputy commander Maj Gwaiba Gabriel (left) and Chief Warrant Officer Lapangas Joseph