For Lieutenant Andrew Vergelius, the recent delivery into Dili Harbour of a deployable hospital and medical supplies provided the opportunity to renew a friendship which began during the turmoil of Timor-Leste’s independence struggle in 1999.
As HMA Ships Adelaide and Toowoomba joined Darwin offshore in Dili as part of their Indo-Pacific Endeavour deployment, Lieutenant Vergelius took the opportunity to go ashore in a landing craft delivering the supplies for the Timor Leste Defence Force’s multinational engineering exercise Hari’i Hamatuk.
Lieutenant Vergelius, was previously a Black Hawk pilot, ferrying locals who required evacuation from the enclave of Oecussi.
“In 1999, I served in my first operational deployment in East Timor and was stationed out of Dili during the INTERFET campaign,” Lieutenant Vergelius said.
“During that time, we flew countless sorties, day and night in challenging conditions to many provinces, providing security overwatch, stores resupply and an aero-medical evacuation capability to numerous locals who suffered from a range of tropical-borne diseases.”
During landings in the enclave of Oecussi, many local children would come out to the helicopters, sitting and talking with the pilots and crew.
“Many of these children had lost parents, due to illness or the militia campaign that sought to kill young men and women in night raids on their villages,” Lieutenant Vergelius said.
“They had been forced to hide in the caves up in the mountains many kilometres away in order to escape from being killed.”
He remembered a little girl nicknamed Noi who, with her brother Ninho, were regular visitors to the Black Hawk crews.
“One day I saw them approach the aircraft and Noi unfolded a beautiful silk shawl with my name on it,” he said.
“This was a wonderful gift from young Noi, who hand-made this shawl and presented it to me as a gesture of friendship and goodwill.”
“After we left Timor, I didn’t hear from them again and over the years I often wondered what had happened to them.”
Over a decade later, Lieutenant Vergelius received a Facebook message from an East Timorese woman.
He was unsure who this woman was until further exchanges discovered she was Noi - the little girl who used come down and meet the helicopters.
“Somehow over the years she had remembered my name and was grateful that I had played a part in giving them a future,” Lieutenant Vergelius said.
Jump forward to 2017 and landing craft from HMAS Adelaide glide into the Port of Dili to deliver containers loaded with portable hospital components.
Onboard one of the vessels was Lieutenant Vergelius, who stepped ashore to reunite with Noi and Ninho.
It was an emotional time for the Navy officer, seeing the two children, now adults, again after so many years.
Now in their 20s, Noi had received a scholarship to study a degree in Bali, while Ninho had joined the Timor Leste Defence Force, with postings to the Royal Military College at Duntroon and the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
“It is such a wonderful ending for two people who were affected by the loss of their parents and I feel proud that I have become accepted as part of their family and referred to as ‘brother Andrew’,” Lieutenant Vergelius said.
“Since reinvigorating our friendship, I have shown both Noi and Ninho photos of our majestic Adelaide which I am proud to have the opportunity to serve in.”
Lieutenant Vergelius, is now assisting Ninho establish the first international school in Oecussi with a substantial donation of his own money.
From the turmoil of Timor in 1999 with threats from the militia and disease, two children gained a future and a lifelong friendship was born.