Bird with a flash of yellow: The PNGDF readies
05 June 2022
What they discussed has to remain as white flecks of foam, cast up by the sea’s rolling waves, particles that disappear as soon as perceived
MURRAY BARRACKS - It was around 5pm when I spotted a bird with a brilliant flash of yellow dancing upon a nearby branch.
Quite a contrast, I thought, as I dragged my bony frame up Signal Hill at Murray Barracks.
The sun was heading towards its usual resting place behind nearby Brigadier Hill but still the heat hung about.
The sweat crookedly licked its way down my rapidly aging spine as I continued my painful uphill trudge along the track.
A few young Acacia and Melaleuca trees were crouched beside the road but failed to inspire.
Then bird with a brilliant flash of yellow stopped chirping and dancing through the branches to fix me with a pitying stare before darting through a clump of trees.
I could feel a wet map of Bougainville forming on the back of my shirt.
I caught another glimpse of the bird gliding smoothly through the trees towards a clearing at the top of the hill.
Then emerging from some low branches, I spotted the green building of the PNG Defence Force’s joint operations branch.
I’m not at liberty to tell what goes on inside its doors. It’s restricted.
But I do know that, over recent weeks, strategies have been conceived and operational plans devised as the PNGDF prepare for PNG’s five-yearly election next month.
Two companies had already been inserted into specific areas of the Highlands identified as being high risk and so needing to be pinned down under PNGDF surveillance.
My uphill trek not over, I picked up pace in the general direction of where I’d last glimpsed the bird with a brilliant flash of yellow.
Major General Mark Goina, the chief of defence force, had said PNGDF deployment was not political, it was part of the government’s desire to provide a free, fair and safe election.
“We’ll be there to support to the police and electoral commission,” Goina said. “Citizens have a right to vote without fear of duress.”
Goina said that the PNGDF had a mission to God, Queen and Country, and part of that was serving and protecting citizens.
I looked for the bird with a brilliant flash of yellow. It had disappeared.
Streams of light from the setting sun spilled through the trees casting shapeless glows on the track
On the hilltop ahead, a few joint operations staff, perhaps rostered for evening watch, hurried about.
In the Highlands we’d already emplaced logistics, supplies and related equipment to the chosen locations along with specialists and liaison officers.
They were on the ground preparing for the insertion of PNGDF troops.
Colonel Michael Banda, joint operations chief, had explained that the main task force base would be in Mt Hagen with a back-up in Lae.
Mt Hagen would monitor the Highlands region while Lae would coordinate troops in the Momase and New Guinea Islands regions. They would also be supported from the sea by boats of the PNGDF’s maritime element.
With some relief, I finally made the top of the hill. It was a personal best; I’d beaten the nicotine book of world records.
A cool breeze swept up from the Taurama valley, as if sent to dry the sweat saturating my shirt.
The bird with a brilliant flash of yellow was nowhere to be seen.
The building of the joint operations branch had been opened on 23 July 2005 by the late Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare.
If you asked me what JOB does, I would tell you I have no idea.
But in layman’s terms, it consists of specially trained microscopic eyes that watch over PNG’s sovereignty.
With writs for the election issued, Colonel Banda reinforced the core PNGDF objective was to deliver a free and transparent voting environment for the election.
He confirmed that maritime routes and ports of entry across the country had been locked in and Her Majesty’s ships were prepared to assist police and electoral commission as required.
My two legs were no whining for recognition that they had walked uphill carrying a heavy load, but I ignored them and lurched across the car park, heading towards the door of the building.
From the carpark, I spotted Force Support Battalion at the foot of a hill two miles away. FSB is known as the Landlord of Murray Barracks. He often flexes his muscles.
On a flagstaff overlooking PNGDF headquarters, the national flag swayed a little in the breeze.
Banda told me he’d quietly visited the Basilisk naval base on the previous Friday to check progress and to chat with sailors before HMPNGS Rochus Lokinap and Lakekamu set sail.
He’d also been briefed by their commanding officers on how preparations were going.
What they discussed has to remain as white flecks of foam, cast up by the sea’s rolling waves, particles that disappear as soon as perceived.
As of this day, I was told, participating personnel in the PNGDF force had been alerted to stand by for operational orders from joint operations branch.
I believe the precise dates of main body deployment are known only to the bird with a brilliant flash of yellow.
Now across the carpark, I stopped and searched the swaying branches for her.
A few birds flew past, heading towards somewhere, but she was not among them.
It is said that birds have wings of flight that never tire, sing songs never written and dance steps never taught.
And a Chinese proverb says a bird does not sing because it has an answer: it sings because it has a song.
The cool wind had now turned gusty and the sun seemed to have decided to hurry home.
Behind Brigade Hill, few early stars appeared and the painting that was the sky revealed a palette glowing with black, red and yellow driving out the fading blue.
I stared at the flag again, now a silhouette swinging calmly against the evening sky.
I was about to walk away when I realised I’d missed something.
Something swooping and soaring amidst the beauty of the end of day.
A little bird with a brilliant flash of yellow.
All images by PNGDF CIMIC (Civil-Military Relations) Team deployed for NATEL 2022, the national general elections operation
Alexander, I see, your hue embracing amber, and away it flew.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 08 June 2022 at 07:44 AM
A very evocative post.
Posted by: Simon Davidson | 06 June 2022 at 08:39 AM
May the little yellow bird remain the guiding star.
Posted by: Joe Herman | 06 June 2022 at 02:52 AM
Good one Alexander.
May your bony legs carry you up many more hills and may you spot many more little yellow birds.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 05 June 2022 at 03:09 PM
"Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." - Josef Stalin
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 05 June 2022 at 11:20 AM