RAAF engineers build strong links in Mongolia


Seven aviators from the Royal Australian Air Force deployed on a civil-engineering program in central Mongolia as part of Exercise Pacific Angel 23 this month.

Led by the United States Pacific Air Forces, Exercise Pacific Angel brings together countries from around the region to positively impact the lives of thousands of people in the Indo- Pacific.

For this latest iteration, US and RAAF civil engineering teams worked with the Mongolian Armed Forces along with civilian and regional agencies to restore a local hospital.

Wing Commander Paul Howell, Commanding Officer of 65 Air Base Recovery Squadron, said five of his aviators joined the RAAF team.

“There’s a strategic goal to this exercise, where our professional engagement and support to Mongolia helps build regional partnerships,” Wing Commander Howell said.

“For our aviators, the exercise builds partnerships at the local level as they apply their skills in restoring civil infrastructure within remote Mongolian communities.”

The team’s skill sets included carpentry, plumbing and plant operations, which were used in the remote Mongolian villages of Tsetserleg and Jargalent.

Two other RAAF aviators provided combat first aid and Mongolian linguist support and cultural awareness.

After the 20-hour flight to Mongolia’s bustling capital city, Ulaanbaatar, the small RAAF contingent drove another 10 hours along difficult roads, arriving at the ancient cultural village of Tseterleg, near the Khangai mountains.

Detachment commander Warrant Officer Andrew Warmington, from 65 Air Base Recovery Squadron, directed the hospital restoration project as the senior engineer on site, managing up to 20 people from different backgrounds.

“Managing foreign forces can be very interesting and has its challenges, requiring an understanding of both Australian and US trades skill sets and their unique ways of doing business, whilst also remembering that this is the Mongolian Armed Force’s country and we’re the visitors,” Warrant Officer Warmington said.

‘The reciprocal exchanges are key to improving capability of all partners, gaining a better understanding of each other’s [construction] methodologies and standards for future cooperation.’

The hospital site was a small outpost half an hour from Tseterleg. Despite being very old and run down, local staff made the most of what they had and kept it clean and tidy.

“Their pride in their little hospital made the team want to provide them with the best we could give and the assistant manager got more and more excited with every repair and upgrade we made,” Warrant Officer Warmington said.

“They are a strong people who live in a hard country and make the absolute best with what they have. Their gratitude was evident every time we fixed something.”

The team of RAAF aviators demonstrated a range of skill sets and ingenuity, integrating easily with the other forces and discussing different ways in which to conduct tasks.

“The RAAF team always stands out on these international exercises, as our trades personnel are fully qualified in their chosen trades having completed a 3-4 year apprenticeship,” Warrant Officer Warmington said.

“Their ability to innovate in the refurbishment of an aging and isolated hospital with little construction materials and minimal tooling was a pleasure to watch.”

Wing Commander Howell said Exercise Pacific Angel was also an opportunity for participants to learn from each other, build common understanding and galvanise people-to-people bonds.

“The reciprocal exchanges are key to improving capability of all partners, gaining a better understanding of each other’s (construction) methodologies and standards for future cooperation,” Wing Commander Howell said.

“These relationships help underpin enduring friendships between Mongolia and Australia.”

Exercise Pacific Angel is a multilateral endeavour, enhancing the participating nations’ humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities. It has provided services to people in need throughout the wider Pacific for more than a decade.

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