Members of the Australian Defence Force recently took part in a moving ceremony on Vanuatu’s Tanna Island to mark the fourth anniversary of Tropical Cyclone Pam.
With HMAS Choules providing a powerful backdrop, the Tanna Council of Chiefs welcomed dignitaries including the Australian High Commissioner to Vanuatu, Vanuatu’s Minister for Internal Affairs, the Commander of Task Group 637.1 and the Commanding Officer HMAS Choules to the island with traditional ceremonies, the exchanging of gifts and traditional dances.
Australian sailors and soldiers from Choules also joined the group to participate in the formal commemoration activities.
Together, they remembered the lives lost and the devastation caused, celebrated the friendships borne from the disaster and paid tribute to the resilience of the Pacific Island nation.
Commander Task Group 637.1, Commander Phillipa Hay likened the welcome to coming home - a feeling that was particularly prevalent during the ceremonies at Tanna.
Also in attendance was Commander Kylie Turnbull, who currently lives in Vanuatu where she carries out her duties as Australian Defence Force Attaché to the Australian High Commission.
“Sisters and brothers of Vanuatu, when you look across the beautiful Pacific blue, your neighbours may be out of sight but we are never far from call,” Commander Turnbull told the assembled crowd.
“We will always be there with you and you can always rely on us in the good times and the bad times,” she said.
Tropical Cyclone Pam was the second most intense tropical cyclone of the South Pacific Ocean in terms of sustained winds. It is regarded as one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded in the region.
After the disaster struck in 2015, 550 Australian Defence Force personnel deployed to Tanna Island.
Australia’s response to the devastating weather event included HMAS Tobruk, soldiers from the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment, four Army Blackhawk helicopters and more than 200 pallets of aid delivered by Royal Australian Air Force aircraft.
HMAS Choules was in Vanuatu as part of Task Group 637.1, on a month-long deployment to the South-West Pacific to conduct bilateral training and community engagement tasks with Australia’s regional neighbours.
Commander Hay said the task group consisted of maritime, land and public affairs training teams, as well as supporting elements from HMAS Choules.
“Task Group 637.1 is the first iteration of Australia’s renewed commitment to the South-West Pacific under the Government’s program to step-up the engagement,” Commander Hay said.
“This mission has dispatched a task group which includes the HMAS Choules and several mobile training teams.
“As the Task Group has been moving through the South-West Pacific we’ve been conducting logistic activities, training activities and community engagement focused on Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu,” she said.
Commander Hay said the Australian Defence Force was committed to forging even closer ties with Australia’s friends and partners in the Pacific region.
“The Australian Defence Force has always been in the South-West Pacific, however over the past decade we have been distracted in other areas of the world,” Commander Hay said.
“But now, the time has come where we are able to renew our commitment and rekindle our relationships with all the nations of the southwest Pacific.
“These are our neighbours, these are our friends – so the opportunity to increase our presence, to re-engage neighbouring forces and participate in training is a valuable opportunity for us to strengthen the region and our partnerships here,” she said.
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