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AUSTRALIAN Army engi-
neers have spent the past
four months building
bridges, literally and figu-
ratively, as part of the US-sponsored
Pacific Partnership 2009 mission.
Two contingents of Australians
travelled 4774 nautical miles across the
Pacific Ocean during the annual train-
ing and preparedness exercise, which
enhances interoperability between
the US and its partner nations while
delivering humanitarian aid in the US
Pacific Fleet area of responsibility.
This year's mission included a mix
of personnel from the US, Australia,
Canada, New Zealand, Japan,
Singapore, France, Chile and the
Republic of Korea, along with various
The first Australian contingent
worked in Samoa and Tonga and the
second went on to Solomon Islands,
Kiribati and the Republic of the
The Australian teams worked close-
ly with US Navy engineers, known
as Seabees, and alongside personnel
from the host nations. They renovated
primary schools, a local hospital and
One highlight was installing a
215m bridge in Tarawa, reopen-
ing trade, business and social contact
between two Kiribati communities that
had been disconnected for more than
two years. At least 5000 locals had
previously relied on a causeway that
could only be crossed by foot.
Lt Mick Jasny, 3CER, was contin-
gent commander for phase two of the
Australians' part in the mission. "The
joy shown by the local people when
they watched the opening ceremony
was amazing," he said. "Hundreds of
people ran onto it, hand in hand with
us, and lined up their vehicles to be the
first to cross."
3CER's Lt Mick Collaros, the con-
tingent commander for phase one,
said his team quickly formed a bond
with their US counterparts and came
away with a better understanding of
US Naval construction techniques, not
to mention a raft of new skills, such as
roofing. "Opportunities like this mis-
sion keep us well trained," he said.
Spr Mark Passmore, an Army
reservist, said another highlight for
the engineers was attending a church
ceremony on the island of Savai'i in
Samoa. "You could see it meant a lot
to the local community," he said.
"They gave us big, genuine hugs
and invited us up to introduce ourselves
and tell our stories. It was touching."
The enabling platform for the mis-
sion was the 23,852-tonne, 690-foot
US Military Command Sealift vessel
USNS Richard E. Byrd, which trans-
ported supplies, equipment and person-
nel around the Pacific.
When working ashore, the engi-
neers lived in a variety of "rest-over-
night" campsites, but travelled between
nations aboard the "Byrd".
While Spr Chris Mitchell, 3CER,
admitted to being bored at sea -- "all
we did was hang out with nothing to
do" -- he said working ashore among
the locals and with mission partners
was a highlight.
Spr James Maraldo, 3CER, was
looking forward to telling everyone his
stories when he got home.
"My dad and grandad were engi-
neers, so I've followed in their foot-
steps, keeping the tradition going,"
he said. "Grandad was pretty ecstatic
when I joined, and to get a chance like
this to travel is awesome."
The Australians' work ethic, skills
and humour were appreciated. "The
Yanks probably think we're crazy, as
we were always joking around and pay-
ing each other out," Spr Mitchell said.
The mission engineering contingent
commander, US Navy Lt Junior Grade
Shawn Talley, said the Australians
worked hard and showed initiative.
But "the thing I loved most about the
Aussies was their sense of humour".
The Australians' work ethic impressed the
Pacific Partnership players -- nearly as much as
their jokes, writes Leut Lauren Rago.
Over and above: Australian Army engineers work with US Navy Seabees on building a bridge in Kiribati to
reconnect the communities of North and South Tarawa.
Photos by Leut Lauren Rago
In the pipeline: Spr Mark Passmore (right) and a US Navy
Seabee sort plumbing supplies for a nursing clinic in Tonga. On site: Sappers from 3CER at work on a school in
Tabontemaneaba village in Kiribati.
National pride: Lt Mick Collaros hands out Australian flags to
school children on the Samoan island of Savai'i.
Army October 1, 2009
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