Home' Army News : August 5th 2010 Contents phat.cdr
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LIMITED deployment prepa-
ration time, a pivotal arrest,
captivating beauty and a sur-
prisingly calm arrival are
among the abiding memories of the
initial Commander of CTF 635 on
Then Lt-Col (now Brig) John
Frewen was serving as CO 2RAR
when given the inaugural mission in
Solomon Islands. Rotation 1 deployed
from July 24 to November 19, 2003.
"We deployed with around half of
2RAR and were augmented by other
troops from within 3 Bde and across
the Army, by Australian Navy and Air
Force capabilities and by troops from
New Zealand, Fiji, PNG and Tonga,"
Brig Frewen said.
"The highlight for me was the sur-
render of the so-called militia warlord,
Harold Keke, on August 13, 2003.
This occurred on a remote jungle
beach of the isolated and inhospita-
ble Weathercoast region of southern
"Keke had hung like a dark cloud
over the small nation and had come to
symbolise the troubles that had long
beleaguered them. His surrender, and
subsequent arrest, was a turning point
for the mission and greeted with ela-
tion throughout the Pacific."
At the height of the first rotation,
there were almost 1900 military per-
sonnel from the five nations under
Brig Frewin's command. The forces
included HMAS Manoora and four
other smaller RAN ships; Australian
Army and New Zealand Air Force
helicopters, and two RAAF Caribou
"We had only three weeks' notice
from receiving the mission to the day
we deployed," Brig Frewen said.
"In that time we had to develop
a plan -- in-concert with the police's
priorities -- and integrate the other ser-
vices and regional military forces."
The mission was to support the
police in the restoration of law and
order to the strife-ridden country.
"Uniquely, for this mission, the
much larger military force was in
support of the police who numbered
around 200 participating police from
nine regional nations," Brig Frewen
said. "This was a new experience for
the military force who were accus-
tomed to the military leading, at least
initially, in similar situations."
Brig Frewen was commanding
2RAR at the time of his new appoint-
ment and although he had no particu-
lar expertise in Solomon Islands, he
had spent a large part of his career
in 1RAR and 2RAR preparing for
these types of eventualities. He had
also served in Rwanda with the United
"Fortunately, we met no armed
resistance as we landed simultaneously
from the air at Henderson airfield and
by sea on the Guadalcanal beaches,
the same locations made famous by
US marines during World War II,"
Brig Frewen said. "The public wel-
come was enthusiastic and remained
so throughout our deployment."
The priorities for the military were
to rapidly establish security and logis-
tical support, and to assist the police to
disarm the gangs and militias.
"We secured Henderson airfield
and an area known as the Guadalcanal
Beach resort as our two initial bases.
Through these came air and sea resup-
ply, and from which we mounted
"I was very concerned we might
face armed opposition during our land-
ing. Once established without incident,
I became more confident the militias
had decided not to oppose us by force.
It was clear we had significant, prob-
ably overwhelming, combat capabili-
ties and we were prepared to use them
For the first month, Op Anode
focused on a weapons amnesty and
collected more than 3000 weapons and
large quantities of ammunition.
"We assisted the mission's head,
diplomat Nick Warner, and the police
to conduct meetings, arrests and public
engagement," Brig Frewen said. "We
progressively established protected
police stations and outposts throughout
the many islands.
"We remained alert throughout our
As Solomon Islands prepares for the result of its latest election held on
August 4, Barry Rollings takes a look at our first rotation there.
Army August 5, 2010
time, however, three stages marked the
improvement in the security situation
"The first was getting established
on the first day without incident. The
next was the surrender of Harold
Keke and the Guadalcanal Liberation
Front's weapons. The last was the for-
mal hand-over of the rival Malaitan
Eagle Force's weapons a few days
later. After that, I felt the potential for
significant conflict had passed."
Brig Frewen said apart from the
criminals and militia members, the
weather and terrain posed the greatest
challenges. "The country comprises
thousands of islands, often with rug-
ged jungle terrain," he said.
"It experiences high temperatures,
heavy rains and rapid flooding. Many
places are accessible only by foot, by
sea or by air. The troops of the first
contingent had to endure extreme con-
ditions of heat, mud and rain, in ways
the later rotations did not.
"My overriding memory of
Solomon Islands is the beauty of the
place and the enthusiastically warm
welcome by the law-abiding citizens."
Trailblazers set tone
Looking back: Then Lt-Col John Frewen was the Commander of the first
CTF 635 in 2003 in Solomon Islands.
Photo by WO2 Gary Ramage
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