Ian Langford - East Timor

Running time
4 min 15 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


East Timor, in the context of the Interfet to sort of Operation Tanager sort of epoch was important for a number of reasons. And this is from a professional army point of view. At that level, at that scale, it's the first time that we had projected in an operational theatre since the Vietnam War.

So very much was a confidence building exercise within the Army, and the ADF more broadly, in terms of what our resources and experience and tactics and capabilities could do relative to how they were managed in that period between the Vietnam War and the Interfet activity. So that confidence building that came from that operational experience still holds true today and still informs much of our decisions, particularly how we interact in the region. How we think about force projection how we understand places like Darwin as they relate to access into the region. So that's sort of the high-level stuff.

Also, I think the really impressive thing about the East Timor experience was the way in which our soldiers were able to rapidly adapt to that environment in terms of, you know, a heightened perception around that experience, as it was anticipated relative to things like the threat and the operating environment which quickly evolved into what was concurrently also a humanitarian operation, a stability operation, in some corners and in some experiences a security operation relative to an armed an active threat.

And then also, how we then transition to support a new government in terms of running free and fair elections in the context of the 2001 election of the new president and the new prime minister. So when you think about it from 99, through to 2001, the nuance in the agility that the Australian Army had to demonstrate, in the period where they hadn't deployed operationally at that level for nearly 25 years, is just profoundly impressive. And the reason that was successful was because of our training system and our people.

And, you know, again, soldiers are not a blunt instrument, they are ambassadors, they're humanitarian assistance workers, they're problem solvers. You know, they know how to nuance their purpose in a mission to meet the need and the requirements of what's urgent without compromising in the broadest sense what's important. And again, I just point to the collective experience of East Timor as the evidence that the Australian Army is pretty powerful in terms of its human talent and the ability to demonstrate discretion when it comes to assessing the situation, being able to adjust expectations and behaviours and do the right thing.

And that Interfet experience and the UN commitment posts that is proof positive of those sorts of behaviours. So really, really important. I mean, equally, you know, at my career point, I was a senior lieutenant junior captain and the fulfilment on a personal level of being able to, you know, conduct platoon level patrolling activities in a security environment where, as a, you know, mid 20s-year-old officer responsible for the lives and welfare of 30 men, and you're doing really important work in often dangerous circumstances.

So that personal fulfilment, that nature and calling of service I found really professionally stimulating and rewarding. And again, you know, it set for me a context and a foundation, which, again, proved really important when in the post September 11 environment we then moved into a collective sort of Middle Eastern area of operations experience which came with a very different sort of threat profile, a different demographic in terms of people we were dealing with and a different set of pressures, in terms of being able to again, get on the ground, assess the situation, and nuance your behaviours to what's important, what's urgent, and what's necessary in the context of an overall mission.

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