Oecussi not out of reach for 13th MEU(SOC)

20 Sep 2000 | Sgt. M.C. Miller

Marines and Sailors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and the Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group delivered building materials and food September 14 and 15 to the World Food Program here in an effort to help to rebuild the city.

The 13th MEU(SOC) and ships of the Tarawa ARG, currently on a six-month deployment to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf, delivered supplies to three East Timor locations as part of a rotational humanitarian assistance operation.

The Oecussi enclave was almost totally destroyed last September when local militias protested East Timor's vote of independence from Indonesia. Nearly every building was burned to the ground; the only structure that survived unscathed was Oecussi's only Catholic church. All the citizens were either driven into refugee camps in nearby West Timor or into the surrounding hills to hide.

In the past year, United Nations' combined efforts with non-government relief organizations have helped rebuild Oecussi and the rest of East Timor. Circumstances have hindered the rebuilding effort however, including difficult travel, weather and militia attacks.

The only roads into the city are through the mountains, which makes it very difficult to deliver supplies by truck, and with the added difficulty of the wet season about to start, there would be little or no help to Oecussi within the next few months.

The MEU/ARG team had to find a way around the mountains to get help to this disadvantaged town. They opted to take an approximately 90 nautical mile sea route from Dili, the capital city of East Timor, to the small enclave surrounded by West Timor. Using two Landing Crafts, Air Cushioned the first day and adding two Landing Crafts, Utility the next day, the Marines brought close to 100 tons of raw building material and 140 tons of food to the needy people.

Oecussi citizens, United Nations officials and the World Food Organization were waiting enthusiastically for the 30-Marine detachment when it arrived the first day with much needed help.

"This is great timing for this delivery," said Jim Finlay, a member of Caritas, Australia, the organization overseeing all deliveries into Oecussi. "The militias are still active in West Timor and the food supply from West Timor is not guaranteed anymore."

A 360-degree security perimeter was set up around the LCACs as soon as they arrived. The 13 Marines from the 13th MEU(SOC)'s Combat Engineer detachment watched out for the local militia and other threats in the area while the Landing Force Shore Party directed the U.N. offload of the supplies.

"Even though we are doing something good, some people here do not want us helping these people," said Cpl. Gregory Kolaske, a 30-year-old Transportation Support Detachment, MEU Service Support Group 13 dispatcher from Tampa, Fla. "A good thing could turn sour at any moment and that is always in the backs of our minds. Even though we wish we didn't need the security, it is still a must."

"We are fortunate to have a military organization delivering the food this time," Finlay said. "It reminds the militias to stay calm."

For most of the Marines involved in this operation, it was their first time conducting an offload like this in a real-world situation.

"This is exciting," Kolaske said. "We actually get to help people that are in need. These people really seem to appreciate what we are doing. Most of the city turned out to watch us when we came to offload. We are really affecting their lives here."

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit