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The 2nd Tour of Timor 02-03

"After watching their performances at ASNCE (Australian national Command Element)
and again at HQPKF (Head Quarters Peace Keeping Force) I felt immensely proud."
Col G.I. Molyneux
Commander Australian Contingent
January 2003

In October 2002 the Pipes and Drums began the deployment for its second tour of East Timor. The soldiers of the platoon entered East Timor in small groups with other sub units as early as the Battalion’s advance party and carried out various rolls as the unit took over operations from 3 RAR. Unlike the first tour, the members entered the country on chartered civilian planes, passing through East Timor's customs at Dili Airport, then on to the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) on the Border by UN helicopters. Once in place, 5/7 RAR became the first RAR unit to deploy its Pipes and Drums as a band to East Timor. Previous units, including 5/7 RAR's first tour, had deployed the members of Pipes and Drums as Combat First Aiders within their Rifle Companies and the deployment of the Pipes and Drums as a whole platoon demonstrated the success of these previous units in bringing peace to the Timorese Border.

It was immediately apparent to the soldiers on their second tour that East Timor had changed dramatically since they had left. The FOBs had undergone major changes, Tonabibi and Batugate were almost unrecognisable, Maliana and Aidabaletan had moved and two new locations had been added to the Area of Operations (AO), Moliana and Bobinaro.

The first task as a platoon was to provide security for the 3 RAR elements leaving the country through the customs facility at Port Herra. For nearly a fortnight the soldiers manned vehicle checkpoints and roving security piquet’s until all of the 3 RAR sub units had cleared the country. On completion of this task the platoon redeployed to Moliana.

The facility at Moliana was by far the biggest housing the Battalion's Headquarters, Administration Company, elements of Support Company and attachments such as the Blackhawks with their support staff, engineers and working dogs. It was here that the Pipes and Drums found themselves based and beginning their task.

The task for Pipes and Drums was to provide the Commanding Officer of 5/7 RAR with a 'Hearts and Minds' capability within the units AO and the Platoon took to this role with great enthusiasm. At first nobody seemed sure how they wanted this task carried out and it was the Pipes and Drums who finally defined their role by moving into the local community to perform as often as possible.

A great hit with the local kids, the Pipes and Drums visited Markets, Schools and official functions within the surrounding area. Several trips were also made out of the Battalion's AO as word spread to HQs at Dili and Suai of the bands presence.

Over the Christmas/New Years period a band made up of Band Corps soldiers toured the units in East Timor as part of the base relief program. Pipes and Drums provided additional musical support to their efforts as well as providing security to their unarmed party while moving around the AO. This occurred again when Australian Army Band Melbourne toured for Tour-de-Force 5 (TDF5) with the Pipes and Drums also providing the drivers for the tours fleet of Landcruisers. Both these tours provided unique opportunities for the Pipes and Drums to break down old prejudices and showcase the flexibility of Infantry Musicians.

As Infantry soldiers, the Pipes and Drums are often called upon to provide their own security so weapons are always on hand during performances. The multi tasking capabilities of the band were demonstrated on the eve of the final day of TDF5 as an incident around Aidabaletan required the company occupying FOB Bobinaro to redeploy to that AO. The Pipes and Drums moved into the FOB and provided security and patrols for the local area until a decision was made not to reoccupy and the FOB was dismantled.

As the deployment drew to an end the Pipes and Drums displayed their flexibility once more by providing NCO support to a series of gunnery courses, run out of the Fijian occupied FOB at Aidabaletan.

In May 2003 the Pipes and Drums began the redeployment back to Australia, passing through the Customs Facility at Port Herra.