Soldiering on in East Timor heat
IPSWICH bloke Alex Tyler is kneeling in the hot dirt at the Metinaro shooting range just outside of Dili, his focus fixed on the stripped machine gun he is deftly reassembling.
Dressed in his army fatigues with sweat dribbling down his face, Lance Corporal Tyler is every bit the Aussie digger.
He’s also about 3600km from home and a world away from his day job as a refrigeration and air-conditioning mechanic.
An army reservist, LCpl Tyler is midway through an eight-month tour of duty in Timor-Leste (East Timor) as part of the 400-strong Australian contingent of the International Stabilisation Force (ISF).
The quietly spoken Ipswich resident has spent the past few months patrolling the streets of Dili and training in the mountains that fringe the city.
“Our role is not so much about security any more, it’s about getting the people to trust their own law enforcement,” he said.
It’s quite a task, but the Aussies are making progress and have plenty of local support.
“The Timorese are pretty friendly; they’ll come up and shake your hand and give you a high-five.
“It’s a pretty good feeling actually.”
Australia’s military presence in Timor-Leste is made up of about 45% reserve personnel, all of whom are trained and used operationally in exactly the same manner as regular army.
As LCpl Tyler’s civilian boss Evan Dawson found out when he visited Alex in Dili recently, the days of reservists being considered “weekend warriors” are long gone.
“They are not just sort of shoved off into a corner somewhere out of the line of danger; they’re right in the thick of it. In fact they are integral to it….. they are it.”
Mr Dawson, director of Dawson’s Technical Services in Ipswich, visited Dili as part of a Defence Force program called Operation Boss Lift, designed to give employers a chance to see what their reservist employees do on deployment.
“I’m impressed with Alex, I’m impressed with all the reservists,
I’m impressed with what the Australian army is doing here in this country,” Mr Dawson said.
Alex Tyler is just one of scores of South-East Queensland reservists serving in Timor, including fellow Ipswich resident Captain David Lockwood.
Capt Lockwood, who has been working through the ranks since joining reserves in 2002, works as trainer and assessor for Flexible Training Solutions in civilian life.
And while he admits he misses his girlfriend and a cold beer (in that order, he ensures), he is proud to be helping the new Timorese nation find its feet.
“I’ve spoken to some guys who were here in 1999 and it’s improved a lot since then I’ve been told,” he said
“But it’s a developing country; it’s got a long way to go, and even now you realise you shouldn’t take what you’ve got in Australia for granted.
“When I hear people whinge about menial things I kind of wonder what they are really whinging about.
“I felt that when I went back to Australia for a couple of weeks’ holiday, I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere, I wasn’t letting traffic p--s me off because everything was sweet.”
Alex and David are due to return home to Ipswich in July.