Moving country’s is pretty tough

When my wife and I moved to Australia almost two years ago packing our life into a container was pretty tough, trying to decide what to take, what to leave behind and budgeting for it all was terrible.

So when I read this article in the Canberra times this morning about the digger boys I decided my case had nothing on them, imagine trying to move 5 million items!

A dusty yard on Kandahar Airfield base in Afghanistan’s south is cluttered with the detritus of a long war. A couple of crates of used military boots awaiting shredding sit by rolls of never-used barrier material, to be sold or given away.

Nearby are the more valuable items, a cluster of 16 Bushmaster armoured vehicles that are waiting to be scrubbed for quarantine and shipped home. The mighty ”Bushy” has served Australian soldiers well – not one Digger has been killed in a Bushmaster.

The material in the yard is among an estimated 5 million pieces of equipment that the Australian Defence Force must lug home, sell, destroy or give away as it closes the main base at Tarin Kowt and brings most soldiers home. Operation Slipper is giving way to Operation Nostos, Greek for ”homecoming”.

A Bushmaster drives through Tarin Kot town, during an operation to inspect a new road in the Oruzgan province, in Afghanistan, on 22 April 2013.
Photo: Alex EllinghausenA Bushmaster drives through Tarin Kowt town during an operation to inspect a new road in Oruzgan province. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Australia is estimated to have spent more than $8 billion on the war. The military hardware is just one part; much of the war effort lies with the support to keep the operations going. Australia must shift or offload about 1300 shipping containers, 2700 buildings and pieces of infrastructure and more than 5000 computers and other electronic equipment.


One of the more ambitious possibilities is to have contractors transport cheaper, non-military equipment overland through Pakistan to the port at Karachi. A trial run was done recently. Between corruption, theft, loss and a dozen other risks, the ADF would have to count on up to two-thirds of the material never getting onto a ship, said Major Nigel Bellette, commanding officer at Kandahar. ”We wouldn’t want to send anything that we’re not prepared to lose through that ground route.”

Defence began packing up at Tarin Kowt in November. They have 34 weeks left to meet the year’s end deadline. Right now, the base is one big work site, with Afghan contractors pulling down building frames. One coffee shop has shut down and the other has downsized to a temporary building.

The shift is producing mixed feelings. Tarin Kowt has become to the soldiers what Nui Dat was to the Vietnam generation.

”The changes on the base just in six months are massive,” said Captain Darrin Tyson, 37, of the brigade advisory team. ”These guys [the Afghans] are ready for us to go … There’s a lot of blood and investment in this place. We’ll never take that away. But it’s time to go.”

All major military equipment will be brought home. Surplus ammunition will be taken to the British Camp Bastion, west of Kandahar, and melted down into alloy ingots for sale as scrap metal.

In some cases there will be a neat handover – Camp Russell, the base within the base that is home to Australia’s elite SAS and Commando regiments, will be taken over by Afghan special forces.

Major Bellette says the ADF has learnt from previous deployments.

”After Timor we brought just about every single item home. It would come back and then it would be destroyed and it was just an absolute waste of money to put it on a plane and fly it home,” he said.

The man most directly in charge of the move, Brigadier Andrew Bottrell, intends the pack-up to be clean, on time and environmentally friendly. ”The way we leave this country is how we will be remembered,” he said. ”We don’t want that legacy to be an ugly picture of rusting buildings and a huge pile of [barrier] waste sitting there for years to come”.

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