85 Transport Association

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85 Transport in 2007

John Howlett  OC, 85 Transport Ttroop

2007

At the start of this year the Troop’s establishment was 3 officers and 110 soldiers and organised into 6 sections and the supporting elements of Q store, clerk, catering and workshop. However, the posted strength was merely 3/56. The shortages in manpower were predominately amongst the drivers but there were also significant shortages in the workshop and orderly room. The 6 sections were designated as 1 section (bulk liquids), 2 section (road trains), 3 section (training/singles), 4 section (road trains), 5 section (floats) and 6 section (floats). Only 1 through 5 sections was manned.

Work started on the 18th of January and the compulsory induction training and briefs needed to be knocked over before completing the immediate preparation that was required for our first job of the year. That job was to support the construction of an Urban Operations Training Facility (UOTF) as part of the Joint and Combined Training Centre (JCTC). This facility was to be constructed at the Shoal Water Bay Training Area (SWBTA) and road transport and terminal support was to be provided by 26 Transport Squadron and 30 Terminal Squadron respectively. Deployment was scheduled to commence on 11th of February so there was little time to sort everything out.

The JCTC task required the Squadron to transport approximately 300 20’ and 40’ containers between Brisbane and SWBTA. This task was used as the Squadron shake out for upcoming biannual major training activity EXERCISE TALSIMAN SABRE 2007 (EX TS 07). 85 and 86 Troops deployed to the Maryborough showgrounds while 26 Squadron HQ, 87 Troop and a composite section from 85 deployed to Rockhampton. 85 Troop’s support elements were also stripped away and rolled in to the Squadron HQ. 85 and 86 Troops were tasked with container transport between Brisbane and Rockhampton and 87 Troop with the section of semi-trailers attached were tasked with clearance transport in to SWBTA. Terminal assets were placed at Rockhampton and the construction site within the SWBTA. Construction was completed by a civilian contractor.

The deployment to Maryborough was typical of the first big run for the year. The first day’s leg saw trucks scattered between Warwick and Enoggera in various states of breakdown failing to meet the end goal of Brisbane. The next short day to Maryborough was used to ensure that all the vehicles were recovered forward and we set to work setting up in the comfort of the Maryborough showgrounds (photos here).

Tasking started the next day and quickly settled in to a routine. The most notable aspects of the Maryborough showgrounds was the rain and flies that tagged teamed us to make sure we had something around to annoy us. We stayed for around two weeks in Maryborough, with the most notable incidents being the emergence of the loud obnoxious shirt brigade and the antics of PTE Joel Porter, the Q storeman. PTE Porter stepped out in to Maryborough and was looking like he was not going to make the next morning’s parade. The Troop SGT, SGT Andrew ‘Ted’ Bullpitt rang constantly from about half an hour before parade. PTE Porter finally answered his mobile phone. When asked where he was PTE Porter responded ‘in a shopping trolley at Woollies’. Thankfully a passing taxi was able to assist him return, only making the parade timing by two minutes.

The supply of containers quickly ran out in Brisbane as our ability to transport the containers outstripped the contractor’s ability to prefabricate them. The Maryborough staging area was closed down and the Squadron consolidated itself in Rockhampton. Some ad-hoc training was arranged to await a build up of containers including an inter-Troop sports day. 85 comprehensively won the sports day. The day was a fiery affair with one of the 85 Troop soldiers cleaning up one of the 86 Troop blokes. When the opportunity for revenge presented 86 weren’t quite able to follow through but the attempt met with a blast from the 85 Troop Commander! I wasn’t going to have one of my soldiers injured despite his earlier rush of blood. The sports day was followed by a Squadron soldier’s dinner where LCPL Taffy Nabbs was promoted to CPL.

With the Squadron shakeout objective completed and the continued inability of the contractor to produce containers, the rest of the Squadron was sent home and 85 remained to complete the job. This resulted in our first extended stay for the year in Rockhampton. Five more weeks passed in a reasonably uneventful fashion, I broke my favourite brew mug drinking rum in the boozer, received a sore chest from PTE Matt Lugton’s chest poking and CPL Wayne ‘Murph’ Murphy explored Sarina on his way to SWBTA from Brisbane! The loud shirts kept coming out (insert photos) and we got all the containers delivered by the 31st of March, just. We returned to Moorebank on the 2nd of April and went on a few weeks well earned leave.

The next major activity for us was ANZAC day. Before hand, CPL Danny ‘Shniko’ Nicolson departed on exchange to the British Army through the Long Look program. We received CPL Guy ‘Dunny’ Dunstall in return. Dunny wanted to have a look around Australia with a view to emigrating and his introduction to ANZAC day astounded him. He had not witnessed a similar event on such a scale as the march through Sydney with the obvious popular support that the Army has here. We marched with the 85 Transport Platoon association. An event I hope to repeat next year in Brisbane. Everybody in the Troop felt ten feet tall and bullet proof. After the march we retired to the shark bar? and caught up with quite a few of the association members. We then left the city and partied on at the Road Runners Club.

The Troop went into a period of preparation again for the next task. The JCTC task had demonstrated that the current Troop structure was unsustainable as the sections were that poorly manned that they no longer represented task able entities and had to be continually smashed together to complete tasking. One of the road train sections was closed and the two specialist sections were given cargo trailers to allow more flexibility. Also demonstrated on JCTC was some serious shortcomings in relation to control of equipment by the Troop, exacerbated by the practice of trailer slipping during the task. It was only through the hard work that Murph put in as the acting 381 CPL that the JCTC task was successfully completed. CPL John ‘Ned’ Kelly was appointed as the 381 CPL and quickly went about the task of implementing better procedures.

In mid-May the Troop rolled out the gate again to deploy 17 Construction Squadron to Doomadgee as part of the Army Aboriginal Community Aid Program (AACAP). This involved deployment by road-train through central NSW and far Western QLD. Doomadgee is located in the Western gulf country. Dunny had a hard time comprehending the need to travel almost 1000km a day and the vast tracts of nothingness that make up our country’s interior. A rest day was had in Cloncurry and whilst there the Troop received some additional tasking. Originally the Troop was to unload in Doomadgee and then proceed directly to Rockhampton to participate in EX TS 07, however word was received that 85 should divert to the Cowley Beach training area near Innisfail to collect 10 FSB (10 Terminal Regt for the olds and bolds) equipment and transport it to Rockhampton. It should be pointed out that 9 FSB (9 Transport Regt) had not even released its deployment order for EX TS 07 when we left Moorebank.

The next day we went in to Doomadgee meeting 86 Troop coming out. There were some choice words thrown at each other over the UHF radios as 86 refused to move over for the road trains. Commonsense dictates that an unloaded rigid truck should really get out of the way of a 40 tonne road train but not in the eyes of the 86 drivers. We unloaded in Doomadgee and overnighted at the Bourke and Wills Roadhouse where final planning was made for the next task. It was determined that we would road-train empty through Normanton across the cape to Mt Garnett split the trains there, run in to the coast load and come back in land, road training with an empty trailer each back to Rockhampton. The floats meanwhile would travel down the coast after loading.

The trip across the cape was enjoyable as most of us hadn’t been that way before; the interaction with the miners’ quad-trailer road trains along a single bitumen road was also an unusual experience. Upon arrival in Mt Garnett, we slept in the slipping yard along with several hundred cattle that made sure that we knew that they were there with constant noise and smell. We ran into Cowley beach and were given a good indicator of what the rest of the exercise would be like. 10 FSB was going to act as the HQ for 26 Squadron during the exercise and their vehicles wouldn’t start, the manifests didn’t match what was there and we ended up having to take nearly all day loading rather than the few hours we assessed it should take. Poor information and shoddy organisation was going to hamper us for the rest of the exercise. We got the floats on their way down the coast and returned in land as quickly as we could.

The next day we travelled down the in land road towards Chartes Towers. As soon as I was back within phone range I received a message from the Sqn OPSO that there were more loads for us in Townsville. 86 Troop had been sent to load 10 FSB stores in Townsville and had taken as much as they could but the loads exceeded their lift capacity. Again this was a result of mis-information from 10 FSB. The Troop had a scheduled break at Chartes Towers. I was first in, so as soon as the trains came in they were directed to split. Single operators were given empty trailers and sent in to the coast to load. The remainder of the Troop continued in land with fully loaded double trailer road trains. The singles married up with the floats and went on down the coast. Eventually we unloaded in Rockhampton two days later.

The Squadron established itself on a new piece of hardstanding at the rear of DSG-Rockhampton and commenced wiring itself in. The aim of the Sqn OC was to demonstrate the Squadron’s self reliance and employability on operations. The Troop commenced a very long and drawn out period of inactivity stretching from early June until late July. Minor tasks were achieved but mostly the soldiers got frustrated with boredom and the Troop HQ got frustrated fighting for information and decent jobs that would provide some training value for the soldiers. Some jobs were interesting such as the transport of American armoured vehicles (photos) or ammunition transport between the port and the Bajool magazine. On the whole a thoroughly uninteresting time, especially as the camp was dry for the entire period. Soldiers will entertain themselves and this period saw the emergence of the pineapple shirt flag and the coconut with a drawn on face and pineapple frond for hair named ‘Wilson’ after the volleyball from the ‘Castaway’ movie. (photos).

August was spent on leave, refurbishing the vehicles, and preparing for the move at the end of the year. September was spent recovering 17 Construction Squadron from Doomadgee and continuing to pack up. The redeployment from Doomadgee required two runs with most of the Troop.

The first week in October saw the first deployment of Troop equipment to Amberley as the Troop began prepositioning equipment for occupation of the new facilities that were to be ready in December. The middle two weeks saw the Troop in Puckapunyal participating in the  Bn handover parade and the traditional ‘blood week’ played between 26 Transport Squadron and 176 Air Dispatch Squadron. 26 Transport Squadron won again this year and consequently 18 Squadron still have more badges on the inter-squadron trophy than does 176!!!

A lot of planning was also done next year on the structure of the Squadron. The entire Squadron was being sucked dry of its experience and a radical plan was devised whereby soldiers from 85 Tp would be promoted early and placed into 86 Troop to provide some solid corporals while still operating their semi-trailers. Meanwhile 87 Troop would be reduced to a training Troop to take IETs from the school and train them to the point of being employable in 86. The flow on from this would be to boost the numbers in 85 Troop and retain some experience. The manning for the Troop in 2008 after the posting plot was struck is still parlous, with no experience to feed the Troop remaining within the rest of the basic driver trade.

Upon return from Puckpanyal the Troop closed the Road Runners Club. I will not dwell to long on this function as many of you would have been there, however a lot of fun was had by all over the three days of the event.

The remainder of the year was spent moving equipment between Moorebank and Amberley, in amongst other minor tasks such as moving ASLAVs for the 12th/16th Hunter River Lances or plant for the 22nd Construction Regiment. The new facility should be ready for occupation in the new year and it will all be challenging and exciting regardless of how it all pans out with brand new facilities, a new culture and a new beginning for the Troop.

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