Royal Australian Navy Officer, Commander Greg Swinden, has recently returned from his third deployment to Operation SLIPPER marking the end to one of the biggest jobs for Australia in the decade-long Afghan war’s history.
The Maritime Logistics Officer (MLO) deployed to Headquarters Joint Task Force 633 (HQJTF633) at Camp Baird on 4 December 2013 as part of Australia’s military contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Commander Swinden was deployed as the last Redeployment Fusion Cell Logistics Planner, tasked with the return and disposal of Australian stores and equipment from Afghanistan.
The Cell coordinated all deconstruction and gifting of infrastructure, remediation of land, clearance of cargo to be returned to Australia and disposal of some items.
The married father of three said his part involved the removal and disposal of equipment from Australia’s commitment at Kandahar Air Field.
“The job was very complex but the end result was very simple - find the most efficient way of bringing our important equipment home and find the most appropriate way of disposing of the rest,” Commander Swinden said.
“Our Afghan partners and the United Nations accepted a range of items and equipment. Selling or destroying equipment further reduced the amount we had to move back to Australia, which would have cost a significant amount of money for transport, and cleaning to current Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (quarantine) standards.
“By destroying it or selling it we saved a significant amount of money as we didn’t need to fly it out or drive it out by a difficult road route - and that’s before we got to the shipping cost.”
The Operation SLIPPER and ACCORDION (from 1 July 2014) deployment served as a good book-end for the Navy veteran who made his first trip to the Middle East Region in 2001-2002 onboard HMAS Kanimbla for Operation CATALYST.
He followed that up as the Director of Logistics at Joint Task Force 633 in 2011 before returning for his current role.
Commander Swinden also deployed to Timor Leste in 2000 and was part of the team that wound down Operation TANAGER and assisted in removing equipment brought in for the International Force East Timor (INTERFET).
“What made it easier coming into this job, was that I had been here before and knew about HQJTF633, I’d done some retrograde work in Timor but not to this level.
“I’d also been a Royal Australian Navy Liaison Officer at Moorebank so I had a good understanding of land logistics.
“The Force Support Unit at Kandahar Airfield and the movers at Al Minhad Air Base are all good operators and we never had trouble getting stuff done because they knew why we were doing it and wanted to be part of the solution.”
It’s not the task that is the standout memory for Commander Swinden, it’s the integration of the three separate services that has left a lasting legacy for future joint operations.
“When I joined the Navy in 1985, it was just three services - since the mid-1990s the three services have turned into the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and we now work closer together. We are at the stage now that having a Maritime Logistics Officer operating in a landlocked country for a land operation is not out of the ordinary.
“Likewise a lot of people in the Redeployment Fusion Cell were Australian Public Service and have a lot of skills which ADF personnel don’t have and they made completing this mission much easier than it might have been.”