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A MUSICAL VOYAGE - Royal Australian Navy

A MUSICAL VOYAGE - Royal Australian Navy

- 182 – Sydney, June

- 182 – Sydney, June 2008: As this was the third tour to Iraq for the Navy Band, I’ll concentrate on the Afghanistan section of the journey. There is also another reason to concentrate on Afghanistan and that is to remind Chief Petty Officer Andrew Stapleton that despite his many tours of duty he hasn’t been to Afghanistan, or Ghanners or Stanners or just the big A as we veterans call it. (We don’t really call it any of those names; but it certainly annoys the Chief!) First stop in this war-ravaged land was Kandahar. First impressions say a lot; and if you were into dilapidated airfields and destroyed Soviet Aircraft wreckage—this is your Mecca. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Lonely Planet Guide might read something like this: Kandahar—Don’t! The first noticeable departure from our previous coalition experiences was the increased English, Dutch and Canadian presence at the base. This presence was most welcome on many fronts. The most welcomed though was the chance to have a varied menu at the DFAT (Scran Hall). Although Leading Seaman Beach was missing his American favourite— Grease Burgers and fries (deep fried Southern Style), deep fried Salad (on the side), washed down with a bucket of Diet Coke and vat of Baskin Robbins Quadruple Choc. The rest of us, along with our livers and colons, were happy to see some vegetables. The other joys of the coalition were The Brits. It’s always good to have the Brits around so we could remind them how bad they are at cricket. The Dutch were good to have around too because they were Dutch and not American. Kandahar’s own Australian part of the world was as typical as all the Australian Bases and camps we visited, insomuch as they are not typical. The Aussie troops go the extra mile to make sure their part of the world is an Aussie Oasis in a sea of PX’s, Fast Food halls, retailers, weaponry, dirt, rocks and sand. Due to some inclement weather—that obviously the Brits brought with them—we were held up in Kandahar for a few days. This was a good opportunity for the musicians to have a run through the program and fine tune a few things. It was also a good opportunity to witness another countries love of sport, this instance, the Canadians, and their sport/religion is Ice Hockey. Unfortunately the Canadians have suffered considerable causalities in Afghanistan and to see their own little patch of home in the form of the Hockey rink must make things a little easier. Although the thought of fighting the Taliban all day then coming home to belt the living daylights out of each other on a Hockey Rink does seem somewhat masochistic. The British tradition of a pint and game of darts seems more relaxing: not that there is any chance of a pint of larger in these parts. The closest one comes are the ‘near beers’. They are just like beer: minus the flavour, taste, hops, refreshing, cool, cold, satisfying, as a matter of fact I’ve got one now, I feel like a tooh…..you get the idea. These ‘beers’ were just like the real thing; only they taste like Adelaide water infused with effluent. Luckily being naval musicians we didn’t miss having the real thing at all! After 47 changes of plans and numerous false starts we landed in the stunning capital, Kabul. Kabul is one of the world’s most elevated capital cities, and at 1800 metres it is only 400m below Australia’s highest peak. Majestic, snow-capped mountains encircle the city and stand as silent witness to the ruins that lay at their feet. Kabul was once a scenic and powerful city. As an example of its war-torn decline, I was only able to get a postcard of the city circa 1976. On our arrival all the flags of the 50 or so nations involved in action in Afghanistan were at half-mast. They remained that way for our two-day stay. If that wasn’t enough to bring one’s attention to the fact that this was serious: the large bullet holes and craters into side of the Kabul International Airport certainly made the point. At this particular juncture, one was happy that one had bought undies in the shade of brown—and in bulk. The Dutch played host for our concert in Kabul in the well thought out name Holland House—Whacky senses of humour those Dutch. Despite a smallish crowd and a few language barriers, the concert was well-received. Unfortunately, we recorded our first casualty. My trombone was dented, in the slide, and could not move past 4th position. Royal Australian Navy Band: A Musical Voyage

- 183 – For a normal trombonist this may have been a concern, but for your intrepid reporter! No worries. With the aid of part of our issued rifle and Able Seaman Dan “Action” McMahon, the dent was removed: tragically the wrong notes remained intact and are still to be affecting one’s playing to this day. This good news of the repaired horn boded well, for we headed to our next, and possibly, most dangerous destination: Tarin Kowt. Tarin Kowt is in the Oruzgan province and has been the site of numerous battles with the Taliban. The base itself has a real look and feel of an old fort—the kind you’d see in an old western movie with John Wayne. The camp sits on some undulating hills before giving away to some fertile plains that lead quickly to steep, rugged mountains that are as old as time itself. Our friends the Dutch have a huge presence in the camp and our Aussie troops have formed a strong bond between these two diverse nations. Having said that, the Dutch were particularly keen to talk to the female section of our touring party. Perhaps the girls know more about clogs, or wooden shoes in general? We had two gigs in Tarin Kowt. The first was performed mainly for RTF3 who were about to head home after over six months of being deployed. I’m sure their spirits were so high in anticipation of returning home they would have applauded a grass growing competition. Luckily we were slightly more animated and entertaining and the show was a hit. The second night was a complete contrast. The previous night’s audience had gleefully flown out—courtesy of Herc Airways (What a great way to fly!) —and our new audience, RTF4 was ready for action. Unfortunately the only action they were up for was getting stuck into the Taliban, not listening to us. The fact that the lighting and electrical system decided to die mid song did not help. Fortunately due to some quick work by ‘Action’ Dan the show went on and the troops warmed to our show. Once again the troops seemed quite interested in the ladies garments—must be an army thing? After a quick phone call to Chief Petty Officer Stapleton back in Sydney to reiterate the fact we were there and he wasn’t, we took off for a luxurious C130 trip back to home base in the Middle East Area of Operations. So, the Royal Australian Navy band expands its list of War theatres supported. Friendships were made and strengthened. Instruments were broken and livers cleansed. Afghanistan and the Royal Australian Navy Band haven’t been quite the same since. ANZAC DAY IN MUMBAI Article by Leading Seaman Esa Douglas ANZAC Day for four musicians of the Sydney detachment was a little different this year. Chief Petty Officer Andrew Stapleton, Leading Seaman Tracy Burke, Leading Seaman Esa Douglas and Able Seaman Chris Thompson flew over to Mumbai in India a couple of days before ANZAC Day to meet with HMAS Arunta. HMAS Arunta was on its way home to Australia after a six month deployment in the Middle East, and had a stop over in Mumbai after finishing exercises with the Indian Navy. The Dawn service had an air of greater significance with the sailors returning from active service and reflecting on those who had served before them. A number of poems were read by the ships company and struck a chord with all when the poems read were from a perspective of a sailor, and one from a little boy marching with the diggers in remembrance of his daddy. The reflective nature of the service was made more poignant with the stirring bugle call by Chief Petty Officer Stapleton, and the naval hymn being beautifully sung by Leading Seaman Burke. The next day, the ship hosted a cocktail party for Indian Navy Officers and Australians who were currently residing and working in India, followed by a ceremonial sunset by the guard and band members. The ceremonial sunset began with the traditional Beat to Quarters and a rousing rendition of My Country sung by Leading Seaman Burke. The guard marched out to Royal Australian Navy and completed the Ceremonial Sunset, finally marching off to our unofficial anthem, Waltzing Matilda. The Commanding Officer and all of the ships crew were very welcoming and made our experience quite enjoyable. The fact that we were there was greatly appreciated by both ships’ crew and attending visitors; one lady commenting that it felt like we had bought her a little bit of “home”. Royal Australian Navy Band: A Musical Voyage

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