18 April 2023

UPDATED: ADF Somalia veterans to meet in Canberra for 30th anniversary reunion

| Andrew McLaughlin
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ADF troops

Australian troops posed with Somali children during Operation Solace. Photo: ADF.

Australian Defence Force (ADF) veterans who deployed to Somalia in 1992 and 1993 as part of the United Nations-led stabilising force will meet in Canberra from 22 April for a reunion to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the deployment.

About 1200 ADF personnel including two Royal Australian Navy ships deployed to Somalia as Australia’s contribution to the US-led Operation Restore Hope. United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM) was already in progress, with Australian and NZDF commitments in place.

The first deployment of about 200 personnel was in 1992 under the ADF’s Operation Iguana as part of UNOSOM. But as the situation in war-torn Somalia worsened, the UN passed a resolution establishing a larger intervention of coalition forces to form the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) under Operation Restore Hope.

Australia’s contribution to Restore Hope saw 990 Army personnel and the large amphibious vessel HMAS Tobruk deployed to Somalia as the Australian Force Somalia (AFS) under Operation Solace.

While the Tobruk departed ahead of the main force loaded with supplies and stores for the four-month operation, the bulk of the Army personnel flew into Mogadishu on two chartered Qantas flights.

The deployment was significant in that it was the first large-scale overseas commitment of Australian forces since the withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam in 1972.

HMAS Tobruk

HMAS Tobruk arrives in Mogadishu carrying vehicles and stores for the deployment. Photo: ADF.

“We thought we never had a chance of going anywhere,” reunion organiser, Ken Snell told Region. “It was a period of peace following the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the deployment came around Christmas time so a lot of the diggers had already gone on leave.

“So, we had to do a recall, and it was initially difficult to convince people this was real! We hadn’t been anywhere for a long time, since Vietnam”.

“So, off we went! We were embedded with the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and were allocated the Baidoa Humanitarian Relief Sector. Baidoa had become known as ‘the City of Death’ ahead of our arrival.”

READ ALSO War Memorial rolls out Anzac Day arrangements

AFS primarily comprised Headquarters AFS and 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) Group, while HMAS Tobruk provided support for the duration of the deployment.

HQ AFS was led by then Colonel William Mellor, while 1RAR was led by then Lieutenant Colonel David Hurley, who later went on to be Chief of Army, Chief of Defence Force and, of course, is now the Governor General of Australia.

Ken Snell told Region that he currently has 439 participants who have registered to attend, including 12 from New Zealand who had served on Operation Iguana (UNOSOM) with the New Zealand Defence Force.

Mogadishu arrival

ADF personnel arrive in Mogadishu aboard a chartered Qantas flight. Photo: ADF.

Reunion attendees served with HQ AFS; 1RAR (including attachments from 2nd/4th Battalion RAR); B Squadron, 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment; HQ 107th Field Battery; 4th Field Regiment; 17 Troop, 18th Field Squadron, 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment; Detachment, 103rd Signals Squadron; Battalion Support Group, 3rd Brigade Administrative Support Battalion; HMAS Tobruk and HMAS Jervis Bay.

Qantas aircrew who staffed the flights into Mogadishu will also participate and attend the official reception.

The reunion will be held across four days in Canberra, kicking off on 22 April with welcome drinks. The Governor General will host an official reception on 23 April, sub-units will hold their own social events on 24 April, and the attendees will attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial that evening.

On ANZAC Day, the reunion attendees will attend dawn services in Canberra, and will then lead the veterans’ march, with the Governor General leading the group.

UPDATED 18 April: In a timely boost for the reunion, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, Matt Keogh announced today (18 April) that a Meritorious Unit Citation will be awarded to some of the ADF units that served in Somalia between 1992 and 1995.

The recognition comes after the government accepted the independent Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal recommendation to award the citation to the four UNISOM Australian Service Contingents (ASC) – ASC I, ASC II, ASC III and ASC IV; to 1RAR; and to HMAS Tobruk.

“As we approach Anzac Day, I encourage all Australians to acknowledge and pay tribute to all our service personnel who have engaged in conflict, peacekeeping or humanitarian operations. They each embody the Spirit of the Anzac,” Mr Keogh said.

“I have accepted the Tribunal’s recommendations and have informed the Governor-General. The Meritorious Unit Citation will recognise the service, contribution and sacrifice made by those ADF members that were deployed in Somalia. I express my deepest gratitude to all those who served.”

However, the announcement fails to recognise the contribution made to the deployment of HMAS Jervis Bay which made two supply trips to Mogadishu and return in four months in support of Operation Restore Hope.

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Peter Graves1:48 pm 17 Apr 23

Operation Restore Hope was indeed just that. With the welcome end of the Cold War, there was much discussion about the “peace dividend” and what the military’s resources could be used for (if not on the battlefield).

Earlier, at the end of the First Gulf War, Australian military forces had been part of Operation Habitat in Northern Iraq, providing humanitarian aid to Kurdish refugees. There’s more in the Medical Journal of Australia (155), 2/16 December 1991:807.

In northern Iraq, Cambodia, Somalia and Rwanda throughout the 1990s, our forces helped keep the peace (to different degrees) and used their military skills to help local civilians in crisis.

Outstanding – congratulations to all.

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