“Train like you fight,” is an old military mantra. But how do you train when your deployments involve very little actual fighting? One Afghanistan-bound Australian soldier found out recently when the Ministry of Defense sent his unit to High Range in tropical Queensland for some pre-deployment work-up: ”We were wondering why they would send us to the tropics for training to go to the mountains in winter,” he writes. “We found out.”
The “fob,” or forward operating base, we are staying at is a basic replica of the base where we are going. You have to use a bit of imagination, but at least they try. We have been driving around dusty, bumpy rutted roads then waiting for hours as “ginger beers,” or combat engineers, clear spots they think might be dangerous. So they clear, we sit and watch.
Which echoes perfectly my own experience in the very Afghan town this Digger will be patrolling: Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province. In June I paid a visit to an Aussie unit guarding a bunch of civil engineers working to rebuild a soccer field for a boys’ school. The troops arrived a full day before the engineers, cleared the area with the help of a bomb-sniffing dog, then sat around, sending out the occasional patrol and posting sentries, but mostly watching. On day two, a suicide bomber hit a nearby Dutch patrol. Ten minutes of excitement, then right back to sitting around watching … for several more days, under the blazing sun, with nothing but paperback novels and bad chow for distractions.
If war is Hell, then Hell is boring.
Interesting trivia: the area around the High Range mock fob is infested with what the Aussies call “brumbies.” These wild horses travel in huge packs, causing road accidents and eating everything green in sight. The Ministry of Defense pays contractors in helicopters to shoot around a thousand brumbies every year: “culling,” they call it. Maybe they should stick some army snipers in those choppers and at least get some training out of it.