I actually knew quite a bit about Cambodia because I'd done a year in Canberra going to high school. My high school years weren't so flash. My sister convinced my mum to make me go to Canberra. I went to Canberra High for a year and we used to do Asian social studies. That was 1975, so I was studying the fall of Saigon and the fall of Phnom Penh.
I had this vague interest in the place, so I thought I knew what it was like, but you're not prepared for... plus, our contingent being the third contingent, the regiment had already deployed into country. We didn't have any guidance. We were just the last group of blokes and women to get in to then be distributed amongst the troops. I had no idea what I was going to do. It was rumoured that I'd be a troop sergeant in a signal troop, which I could do, because I was radio trained across the board. I could do radio analogue, TeleType or Rat Net. The Mid Put High put I couldn't do.
I'd read that there were a lot of RatNets, so I was hoping to get a troop sergeant slot, because that's what I've been trained to be, even though it was a signals unit. It was an odd unit because it was signals command down through the warrant officers then from warrant officers down, you then got other corps inputted in. Like my first meeting with the officer commanding of the squadron, he told me he didn't want me.
It was a great welcome to the country, but the regiment had the CO and the RSM had met us at the airport and shook our hands and "Welcome to the country," which blew my mind. It was an odd bag. My troop, which I ended up having, we were in the Northwest corner, Sisophon. It was a complex area because of the four armies in Cambodia, they all needed logging routes into Thailand and gen routes into Thailand. That was done through our sector. Whenever I went out to visit our troops deployed through the sector, we used to have to cross individual front lines of the different armies operating. It was quite a complex area to operate in, but it was different because we were a signals unit.
You're not bringing fire power to the game. I'm an armoured corps soldier. I bring fire power to the game, so suppression, et cetera. This was simply, we've got to get a radio, put up antenna and send people's messages, that's what we're here to do. You don't shoot people doing that. It was a dramatic change. I had to shift my brain in the thinking, but it was a wonderful deployment. The troop leader was a SIG, troop Corporal was a SIG. We had a Naval PO, petty officer, which freed me up. He runs the comms end, I'll run the admin of the troop. We were perfect. Perfect little troop.