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PNGDF chief: Care for our people & country

For Major-General Goina, the PNGDF's role is about humanity - the duty to care wrapped around a desire for peace, safety and well-being for women and children

3 - Members of PNGDF participating in NATEL 2022


PORT MORESBY - Elections come and go, governments rise and fall, yet democracy remains.

We say that Papua New Guinea’s national election is the pillar of democracy but to me they are the culvert into which this nation’s free river of democracy is piped, felt and expressed.

The PNG Defence Force is an old institution, much older than the birthdate of this nation with roots buried deep in time amid the battlefields of World War II.

Although its history is scarred by the bloodshed of Bougainville civil war, that experience carved a path to change, progress and a way forward.

Over the years, continuing focus had been placed to transform the PNGDF into a professional, well-trained and capably led military force able to fully deliver its constitutional obligations.

The Defence white papers of 2009 and 2013 pointed towards rebuilding PNGDF capacity.

CDF Goina talking to troops
Major-General Goina talks to troops in Mt Hagen in June at the dawn of the national elections

Today, with these goals still in focus, defence force chief Major-General Mark Goina has a slightly different eye.

Goina told me his first and foremost line of effort from 2022 to 2026 is the duty of care for all service men and women.

This includes career development, improved living standards and managing transition to civilian life at the end of their time in uniform.

Goina said he has dedicated his term in office to ensure personnel are being well led and properly paid, clothed, accommodated, trained and given the appropriate environment to work in.

“They are our people and our most important asset and we must look after them well to enable them to discharge their duties to the best of their potential while away from their families,” he said.

Sitting there listening to him, I heard in his voice the rhythmic beat of a soldier’s heart.

Where is a soldier’s heart, you might ask.

To find you must access a soldier’s temperament in which discipline, morale and professionalism can be sighted.

Allow me to say that it is a challenge to keep military personnel fully engaged without reminding them of the things they are missing.

Trying to understand this, I came across few words by Orson Scott Card, an American writer.

Whether for good or a bad purpose, Card humorously explained, “soldiers can sometimes make decisions that are smarter than the orders they have been given”.

I hope that gives you a glimpse of what I mean.

For Major-General Goina, it’s about humanity - the duty to care wrapped around a desire for peace, safety and well-being for women and children.

Soldiers must respect families and all those who look up to them for support.

“We have to get these basics right for our uniformed personnel and their familes,” he said.

Goina said his focus is on stabilisation, which he plans to achieve through five lines of effort; where people and duty to care sit at the top of the list.

The other four lines of effort are organisational reform, operational proficiency, infrastructure and nation building.

Goina initially made these commitments in February this year when he took command of the PNGDF from outgoing chief, Major-General Gilbert Toropo, now retired.

Before the national election, Goina reminded military personnel to behave professionally and live up to the standards, values, ethos and principles expected of them.

With several elements redeployed into high risks parts of Enga, Southern Highlands and Hela provinces to protect government assets, Goina urged them to be mindful of their conduct.

He said serving in the PNGDF is a special calling that comes with heavy responsibilities.

2 - PNGDF working alongside Police
PNGDF troops work alongside police during the elections

Each service man and woman, despite rank and appointment, is held accountable and responsible to the people of this nation.

“Each soldier is accountable and responsible for his or her own behavior and the behaviour of those under their command,” he said.

Goina added that each soldier is a volunteer selected after a vigorous elimination process and put through dedicated training and appointed to a privileged position which comes with heavy responsibility.

“We all must engender and retain the trust and respect of our citizens,” he said.


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Paul Oates

The PNGDF has one major hurdle to confront. It is, by its very conception, a national body that by its very conception, represents a unified nation.

Yet is PNG a unified nation? If not, what might happen if the PNGDF is required to operate as an armed, unified force in areas that might be termed un unified? Previous Commanders have already proven problematic in their interpretations of loyalty.

The potential for things to go awry increases by the day. If the Defence Force is beholden to the PNG Parliament, exactly what part of the PNG Parliament will retain the Defence Force's loyalty if there is internal conflict like seen in the recent election?

Kain olsem na bai yumi askim ol soldier wan wan. Yu husat yu tasol inap long lukautim gut sapos bigpla birua insait long kantry igirap?

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