Major Paul Lodge and Captain Chris Willett are both reservist members of the Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG). In their civilian jobs, Paul is a Project Manager and Chris is a Police Officer. For two weeks, they are deployed on Exercise Civil Bridge, an MSSG overseas training exercise which this year is taking place in Jakarta – the first joint exercise of its kind to involve the British and Indonesian Army.
By way of introduction, my name is Paul; I am a Major in 5RRF, currently posted to the Military Stabilisation & Support Group (MSSG); and my role is Exercise Chief of Staff (COS). I am an ex-Regular Army officer now working as a programme manager in UK Central Government and as an SO2 in the MSSG.
For those who may not be entirely familiar with our organisation, the MSSG is small group nested in Force Troops Command (FTC) as part of the Security Assistance Group (SAG). Our role is to provide military support to Stabilisation and Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Recovery (HADR) operations.
We are a hybrid organisation bringing together Regular and Reservist personnel from all three Services. This broad mix of skills and experience has enabled us to deploy to Indonesia with an incredible depth of capability including world renowned academics, military and civilian practitioners and up-to-date operational experience.
So, why/how did we end up in Jakarta?
Exercise Civil Bridge
Indonesia is a huge democratic country in South East Asia with a thriving economy. On that basis it wouldn’t seem like the obvious choice for an exercise in HADR and disaster management. However, it is, geologically, hugely unstable as it rests on what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. This is where three tectonic plates converge to create a region that is constantly at risk of earthquake, volcanic eruption and/or tidal waves. Much of the country also sits below Mean Sea Level and is, therefore, prone to regular flooding. In most cases, the Indonesian Army (TNI-AD) and the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPD) are the first responders in these emergencies. As a result, both TNI-AD and BNPD are very keen to understand how other nations approach HADR in order to learn and they are keen to reciprocate by sharing their learning.
Indonesia is also a major trading partner with the UK, therefore, the British Government is keen to strengthen relationships with Indonesia on all levels.
Exercise Civil Bridge (ExCB14A) is the British Army’s first joint exercise with the Indonesian Army. It is intended to provide the Indonesians with the current British Military view of Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Recovery (HADR) operations in the form of a comprehensive training programme and to allow an assessment of the Flood Response Plans for Central Jakarta in order to share knowledge on our response to flooding.
We had been warned off that we would be deploying to Indonesia towards the end of 2013, and as our planning shaped up a team of 30 personnel was identified, primarily from the MSSG but also including members from the DCSU, 15POG, 52MI, HQ BGN and 42 Engr Regt (Geographic). In terms of the civilian skillset we have civil engineers, police officers, health professionals, cultural specialists, local government infrastructure specialists, and a range of other trades. This mix has ensured that we have the necessary skills and experience to provide and deliver a well-researched and credible product to the Indonesians.
Since then we have had a small team (mainly of one!) working to set the conditions for a successful deployment. The pre-deployment phase has included two full weekends of preparation in order that the Regular and Reservist team members had the opportunity to start forming in their teams. During this period we studied the existing flood plans in detail in order to understand how the response should work in theory and to identify who had responsibility for what at the District, Sub-District and Village level in Central Jakarta. This allowed us to develop our plan of who we would need to meet with and what facilities we would need to see in order to understand how well the plan would be translated into action on the ground in the event of a major incident.
This information was then passed on to the Embassy Defence Section who worked to facilitate the organisation of the meetings with TNI-AD assistance ahead of our arrival.
An Advance Party deployed to Indonesia on 31 May 14 and established a small presence in the British Embassy in Jakarta in order to begin the training delivery and to conduct a study period on the disaster responses to the Yokyakarta earthquake and tsunami (2006), the Merapi volcano eruption (2010) and Jakarta flooding (this occurs multiple times each year). Both the training and the study period generated some keen input from the Indonesian team and resulted in some very positive feedback.
The rest of us were very keen to get on the ground to begin the process of meeting the TNI-AD personnel we would be working with and to get on the ground.
Gibralta Barracks to Jakarta
Our journey began at Gibraltar Barracks in Surrey, the current HQ for the MSSG, on Sat 07 Jun 14 when the bulk of the team gathered for the journey to Jakarta. Two of the team were travelling separately from their work locations in India and Nepal. After some additional kit issue (followed by frantic weighing of bags in order to avoid a £125 excess baggage charge if we broke the 30kgs limit) and an update briefing we were on our way to Heathrow for a 2215 flight to Dubai and then on from Dubai to Jakarta.
19hrs later, at 2330 local time the following day, we arrived at Jakarta international airport after two long, but uneventful flights and were greeted to enormous queues for passports. An hour later and we were waiting for our luggage and finally on the last leg of the journey by coach to the accommodation.
We had been warned that traffic jams were a fact of life in Indonesia but I had thought that at 0030 on a Monday morning we might have a clear run, however, this was not the case and the three lane motorway from airport to the city was solid traffic and seemingly without a Highway Code. Having negotiated the traffic we were greeted by the Advance Party and issued with our accommodation. We finally got our heads down at 0200 for an 0745 departure for work.
Later that morning we were all present at the British Embassy in Jakarta for a joint UK/TNI-AD welcome briefing by the British Ambassador, HE Mr Mark Canning CMG, and Brigadier General TNI George Elnadus Supit, the Deputy Assistant of Operations for the Indonesian Army. This set the scene for the high level of cooperation and integration between our team and the 40 TNI-AD personnel that would be undergoing training and joining our teams conducting the assessments on the ground.
Following the opening addresses the teams got to mingle and meet each other before deploying into the city for the first round of meetings. Our plan for Day 1 was to conduct initial meetings in South/Central Jakarta with key personalities responsible for managing the flood responses at District, Sub-District and Village level. These meetings had been pre-arranged by the TNI-AD personnel and occupied the majority of the day with travelling time (i.e. Jakarta traffic time) factored in.
The reason we have a dedicated IT rep in the team is because we are using a new suite of tools from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) that allows us to operate effectively when undertaking HADR operations. We have used this on previous exercises in Kenya and it enables teams on the ground to post reports with imagery in realtime on a Google maps based interface. Alongside an instant messaging application this allows the Ops Room to see the locations of all the teams plus the imagery and data that they are collecting. The teams on the ground can access the platforms via tablets (or any other mobile device) that connect via the local 3G network or by WiFi. The use of the tool in a predominantly urban environment for the first time will allow us to further refine and develop it for future use.
We will be posting regularly throughout the exercise and will look to give you a flavour of all of the elements of our work via this blog.