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Minister Presents MAF Staff With East Timor Medals

Five Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Quarantine Service staff have been awarded East Timor medals in recognition of their service in the war-torn country.

Biosecurity Minister Jim Sutton presented the five officers with their medals at a short ceremony in Wellington today. The East Timor medal is awarded to defence and civilian personnel who have served more than 30 days in East Timor (as part of the NZ Defence commitment to the United Nations programme).

The recipients were: Sue Gould, from Lyttelton; Grant Weston, from Palmerston North; Michael Barker, from Auckland; Jaimie Baird, from Nelson; and Jason Speers, from Auckland.

Mr Sutton said the five had demonstrated considerable skills and ability in trying conditions.

"East Timor is not an easy place to live and the officers have to work exceptionally hard while there are there."

Mr Sutton said while all New Zealanders knew of the excellent work our military were doing in East Timor, they might not be so aware of the superb work MAF Quarantine Service staff did, which was a shame.

MAF quarantine officers travel to East Timor to pre-clear New Zealand troops returning after deployment with the international peacekeeping force there.

By inspecting the personal effects and equipment before they come home potentially damaging pests and diseases can be better excluded. The risks are managed off shore before packing was completed. On arrival back in New Zealand soldiers present no biosecurity risk, they can leave the aircraft passed through immigration/customs formalities and join their families without delay.

New Zealand has about 660 troops serving with the peacekeeping force as part of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) at any one time.

Our battalion is based in Suai securing the south western border with Indonesian controlled West Timor. Staff are also based in Dili, the capital, involved in liaison and logistics support. Also at Suai is an RNZAF Squadron operating Iroquois helicopters. They support our soldiers with transport and medical evacuation to the NZ field hospital at Suai. The troops working in the field are literally rolling in siam weed (a particularly virulent climbing noxious plant) and picking up seeds. Hitch-hiking insect pests (ants, termites, amphibians, scorpions, and mosquitoes) are common, especially where ground contact occurs.

The big job, when troops are leaving East Timor, is to get all equipment cleaned using the steam cleaners, washing machines and enormous amounts of water.

MAF inspections start shortly after cleaning. Initially the trunks and packs (with webbing) are inspected. This involves laying everything out on long trestles tables. Officers look at each item of clothing and equipment, turn socks inside out, dismantle webbing and pack frames. The trunks are checked inside and out before repacking.

Inspection of an individual soldiers gear takes about 30 minutes to complete.

As each item is approved it is sealed with MAF inspection tape and placed in a pre-cleaned and residual insecticide sprayed container for shipment home.

The roll bags and carry-on day packs (accompanying troops home) are then inspected on the final day in the same way. These are taken away after inspection and assembled on an aircraft pallet. Care is taken to avoid recontamination by hitch-hiking insects/amphibians or siam seed for the trip to the airport.

On departure day each carry-on bag is rechecked for its 'passed inspection' sticker at Dili airport.

Immediately before boarding the aircraft, a footwear inspection is done on the tarmac and spiny seeds brushed off. Up to ten percent of the boots usually need re-cleaning.

Processing the 660 troops in groups, sometimes exceeding 220, in the three or four day's available keeps the MAF team busy and the 4-6 officers work all the daylight hours available.

Seizures intercepted include lots of siam weed seed, ants, prohibited rations and some hitch-hiking insect pests.

A couple of the more interesting items required treatment. A goat skin picture was presented to the New Zealanders by the Indonesian army unit based on the opposite side of the border. A ceremonial sword with animal hair attached was from Falintil commanders (the military bush based fighters that opposed Indonesian occupation), presented to one of our senior army officers. Two MAF staff wearing surgical gloves spent 7 hours unpicking stitching and removing siam weed seeds from militia weapons and personal belongings. These items were returned to New Zealand as evidence and for forensic examination after they had been decontaminated. For more information: CATHIE BELL on 4719855 or 025 998467

East Timor Medal recipients ? short bios

All recipients except Jason Speers are available for media interviews. Please contact Rachel Dahlberg at MAF (04 4744100) to arrange

Sue Gould (available for media interviews)

Sue Gould has served 20 years as a quarantine office - 15 years rotating all jobs and the past five years based at Lyttelton. She has been up to East Timor on four trips - Suai camp for the 1st rotation living in the mud, then she went back to clear the air force, again staying at Suai with the FST. On this occasion Sue says she was very fortunate to fly round the company locations giving briefs in the field regarding the next rotation. Sue went back up to Dili/Hera to help set up for that rotation. Her last trip was in May this year for the full rotation staged through Hera. They flew 45 minutes each way by Iroquois across to Suai to clear 3 Squadron contour flying on the way home!

Sue initially volunteered for Timor because she believed in the need for our military to be involved in the cause. She had previously worked in the tropics and knew she could handle the heat and that the opportunity to live and work in an active zone as a civilian would not arise again.

Grant Weston (available for media interviews)

Grant Weston has worked as a quarantine office in MAF for about seven years. He is based in Palmerston North.

Grant was team leader of his group of three other QO's on his first visit to East Timor. He was involved with liaison with the force extraction group Captain, which involved conveying and ensuring MAF requirements were met in order that our team could conduct its tasks. These tasks were ensuring no biosecurity risks were bought back to New Zealand.

Grant was also required to speak with the outgoing battalion troops in order that they were aware of what New Zealand's procedures and requirements were. He also had some liaison with members of the Australian QIS in order that they were aware we had removed all biosecurity risks from the transiting New Zealand Battalion members entering Darwin en route to NZ. This helped with a smooth transiting process at Darwin.

Grant's second trip to East Timor involved inspection of army personnel and their equipment returning to NZ.

Grant volunteered for the trip to East Timor as he had not travelled overseas a great deal and I had heard a lot through the media about New Zealand's operation in East Timor. Grant thought it was a great chance to travel to such an environment and see New Zealand's efforts first hand.

Michael Barker (available for media interviews)

Michael Barker has worked in MAF for seven years in Auckland as a Zones Officer.

Michael performed clearances for 660 soldiers and their equipment at Suai. Michael volunteered for East Timor to further his experience with MAF, to see a country coming to terms with horrendous atrocities and to see the rebuilding of a democracy and economy.

Jaimie Baird (available for media interviews)

Jaimie Baird joined the MAF Quarantine Service in 1972, working in various Wellington region and head office positions until 1986. Mr Baird transferred to MAF Information Services to gain commercial experience, leaving after three years to establish a desktop publishing company in Wellington. In 1991 he returned to MAF as a Quarantine Officer and is based in Nelson.

Mr Baird was a member of the first MAF pre-shipment inspection team to visit East Timor, inspecting New Zealand troops for the completion of INTERFET operations at Dili and Suai, in February 2000. He subsequently made two visits to RNZAF, No.3 Squadron, Suai airfield to inspect personal effects and helicopters returning home. In addition he was a member of the teams doing pre-shipment inspections of NZBATT2 and NZBATT4 battalion rotations at Hera, East Timor.

Having worked briefly for FAO/UNDP in the Pacific region in 1981 on a short term contract, Mr Baird was keen to extend his overseas experience by volunteering to undertake pre-shipment inspections in East Timor. The chance to see first hand a country whose recent history has been so controversial and closed to external observation provided an adventure. The opportunity to learn something of East Timorese culture has assisted Mr Baird with the social anthropology component of his extramural studies for a BA (Social Science) at Massey University. During each of his five visits to East Timor Mr Baird has seen positive changes as the Timorese people have returned to their homes, restarted agricultural and fishing activities, and business in Dili has got underway again. Mr Baird says supporting New Zealand's contribution to the UNTAET Peacekeeping Force has been a very memorable experience as the New Zealand Defence Force are a great team to work with.

Jason Speers (not available for media interviews)

Jason Speers shifted up from Havelock North in November 1998, where he was working for HortResearch, to take up a Quarantine Officer position with MAF Quarantine Service based out of the Auckland Wharf office.

Living with the New Zealand Defence Force at their HQ compound in Suai over May 2000, Jason, along with three other MAF staff, was involved in the Biosecurity pre-clearance of 1st RNZIR Battalion personnel, their equipment and personal effects, prior to their rotation back to New Zealand.

Jason's interest in East Timor stemmed from the writings of foreign correspondent & journalist John Pilger and his early '90's documentary Death of a Nation: East Timor. Jason never thought he would have the opportunity to visit the country himself.

Ends


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