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Uniforms
PNG's shaggy soldiers - and it's all the fault of the politicians

SCOTT WAIDE
| My Land, My Country

LAE - I write this on behalf of the many soldiers who can’t openly discuss the problems they face in the field as members of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF).

I also write this as a Papua New Guinean who holds the PNGDF in high regard despite the many problems it faces.

Every year, the government passes the budget. Every year, the budget figures grow. Or appear to grow at least on paper.

But the reality is the PNGDF is the least prioritised function of the government.

Yet the demands placed on its 5,000 men and women are immense.

PNG’s military’ spending is 1.9% of gross domestic product (GDP). Military spending in Fiji is 3% percent of GDP.

That gives you an idea of how much value the respective governments place on the very institution tasked with guarding borders and keeping the country safe.

The PNGDF is an organisation that is struggling.

Yet the soldiers who do the work will not tell you publicly how hard it is.

It is a job they do with pride and with little complaint outside their own circles.

Former PNGDF commanders like retired Major General Jerry Singirok have raised these concerns numerous times.

Each time, they have fallen on deaf ears.

Singirok says our air, sea and land capabilities need to be improved and the number of infantry troops need to be increased to reflect the size of the PNG economy. 

We cannot expect to grow an economy without having the means to protect it. We need our own planes, helicopters and more ships.

Nor should we depend on Australia to fund all our training and equipment. It is embarrassing!

Last month, I read comments by soldiers working along the Indonesian border. They’re carrying out the commander’s intent. One hundred and twenty men.

Their rations are in short supply, their uniforms and boots are torn and worn out. They work in wet, soggy conditions.

Many of them have only one set of uniforms. The one they got from the training depot at Goldie.

One soldier’s wife said she sews her husband’s uniforms because he has not been issued with a new set for years.

A soldier’s dad said he had to buy his son’s field uniforms and boots. They cost about K500 a set.

It costs K8,000-K10,000 to adequately clothe a soldier with five sets of field uniforms and boots. And that’s just the field uniforms.

What good is an army that can’t properly feed, clothe and equip men and women?

The average politician has a shelf life of five years. The military is here to stay.

However, politicians wield the power of the state. That’s the power that uses the PNGDF as a tool for political convenience during elections.

We tell the soldier to “be proud of the uniform they wear.” What uniform?

Uniforms 2The torn and tattered shirt and trousers he can’t sew together again? The boots he has to patch because the government has nothing more in stock?

We have to clothe our soldiers and we have to feed them so they can do the work they signed up for.

We owe it to their families to take care of their dads, mums, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.

I want to be proud of my army. I say to the legislators, while our military is the servant of the state, it is not here for selfish political convenience.

Comments

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Arthur Williams

A sad reflection on any government if it cannot adequately cloth and equip its military.

However, as a British ex-Guardsman, I must mention a few points about the article.

First is that the soldiers pictured should be 'in the book' for parading in uniform in need of some basic needlework.

We were issued with a 'housewife' kit that included needles, thread etc to carry out repairs because if married or not and we were out in the field it was very unlikely the missus or mummy would be alongside us to make repairs to our clothing.

That is why discipline is the basis on which an army can perform efficiently. In peacetime which is thankfully the majority of the PNGDF duties at the moment.

There should be daily parades and each soldier should attend in uniform without broken pockets, tears etc. Boots are very important and should be kept in good order.

I have just done a quick search online for army clothing and many sites could equip a soldier from head to foot at the cost of under K700 and that is not quoting the cheapest prices.

So I agree with the K500 mentioned by one father is a far better cost for a single set of field uniform which equates to K2,500 for five sets or a quarter of the inflated K10,000 also suggested in the article.

I must clarify that my figures are for an individual buying rather than the Army's quartermaster office buying more cheaply in bulk via tender.

Not sure why there is a need for five sets per soldier. Again in my day the rule for clothing was: 'One on, one in the wash and one in the locker'. Similarly for boots, we had three pairs.

Those were my gripes with uniform but agree with so much else. Sadly in peacetime funding military is low on most MPs' agendas.

Rudyard Kipling said it best in his 1890 poem, 'Tommy' -
"Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep / Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation" cheap / But it's 'Please to walk in front, sir,' when there's trouble in the wind / There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind, / O it's 'Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind.'

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