Jakarta: An exercise in disaster management Pt2

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.

Capt Chris Willett (left), Maj Paul Lodge (right)

Capt Chris Willett (left), Maj Paul Lodge (right)

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.

Captain Chris Willett continues the blog:

Meeting the team

Arriving at 1am is never the best way to see a city and as we headed out of our hotel for the British Embassy on the first morning I was looking forward to soaking up all the visual riches Jakarta had to offer. Sadly, for a tortuous mile our car inched along in a sea of mopeds and my view was of suburban garden walls and palm trees. At the Embassy (an oasis of aircon and real tea) we met our Indonesian Army Liaison Officers (LOs) and mingled with mixed results. The range of English varied from the downright chatty to embarrassed shoulder shrugging but as the teams came together we realised we had landed a bunch of capable and affable counterparts and took our places for a welcome speech by the British Ambassador and the Indonesian Brigadier General.

The British Ambassador makes us all feel very welcome

The British Ambassador makes us all feel very welcome

The Ambassador was just how you would expect him to be only quite a bit taller and not as slick – which is a good thing. He gave a nice speech, which made everyone feel good about being there – he’s not a diplomat for nothing. Although I have to admit I did drift off a bit halfway through wondering if I’d tried harder at school and had parents from a higher social class (several classes higher if I’m honest) I could do that job. What does he do with his free time and just how do you stay grounded (and it appears he does) when everyone calls you ‘your excellency?’

After a prep period during which our eager LOs pestered us and clearly thought we were faffing, we ’hit the ground’ not necessarily running, for the Jakarta traffic precludes travel faster than walking pace in a car and even slower if you are walking. Our enthusiastic efforts to establish a good working relationship with our driver didn’t go well either. Every time we asked his name he said “I’m sorry”, “No need to be sorry mate, just tell us your name”, reply “I’m sorry”. Two days of this and we fixed it…his name is Ahmsori!

Ahmsori; our team driver for the next two weeks

Ahmsori; our team driver for the next two weeks

We were off to interview the Mayor of South Jakarta in his modern skyscraper. Setting up in a warm, dim anti room full of soft sofas, it wasn’t long before the combination of jet lag and the soporific voice of our host made me crash. I was fighting sleep like I was in an MMA cage with the Sandman- and he had a hammer! In the nick of time I was rescued by the Mayor’s staff delivering leaking bottles of water and the subsequent effort to stop the drips pooling in my crotch was enough to bring me back into the room. The meeting went well as his officials tag teamed to answer the question set we had designed a month ago in Larkhill-with amazingly credible results. I‘d really love to tell you about the journey back to the Embassy but we all slept soundly through it. An evening of writing up the interview (teething troubles with the tech we are trialing) and it was thankfully bedtime, a cool shower and clean linen never felt so good.

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.

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