The Adventure Of A Lifetime.
21 Field Squadron + Sector 10 + Ops Packer (1985-86)
Hotlink to Part One
25 Field Squadron: Oshakati
The 21 Days back in RSA was quite boring and nice at the same time. I had no problem adjusting back to normal live for the duration of the pass. When it was time to go back, I was well rested and looked forward to a further 4 months at Elundu.
We reported back to Doringkloof from where we flew to Ondangwa and traveled by road to Oshakati. Over the next couple of days all the guys would come in and we would have some time to catch up on who did what over the past three weeks. Some of the stories where hard to believe and others sounded like the guys had a really good time.
Then the bad news came! I was not going back to Elundu. I was staying in Oshakati at 25 Field Squadron. What a shock! To stay in a big base in a town is not my idea of fun. Suddenly there are rules to follow, no more living in a tent, no more doing what you want when you want. This sucked! As Sappers, we were spoiled in some of the outside bases. We really had a good time and in most cases we were left alone as long as we did our job and did not break the rules. I would mostly miss the times that I went out with other units, because those were the times when I got what I saw as `the real experience'.
25 Field Squadron turned out to be not as bad as I thought it would be. Close to the base was a SAWI store, so we could buy most things that are available back home in the States. The base had a nice pool and they even had a TV. I got to meet up with some old friends and made some new ones. There were some advantages in Oshakati that we did not have in Elundu, so I made peace with the place and started to enjoy it.
Then it became time to get back to work. Mine sweeping here was different from what I was used to. We would go in the morning and sweep a short piece of road at a school or college. Protection was provided by NODDY cars (or `Eland' as they are officially known.) This was actually very boring, because you would drive on a sealed road for up to an hour to check 500m of dirt road. This became one of the things I disliked most about Oshakati.
From time to time we would go to the shooting range outside town and do some shooting with a variety of weapons. My all time favorite is the RPG 7. It is incredibly loud and very effective if used correctly. It is in the same class as the AK47 in the sense that it stood the test of time and is still widely used today. The biggest draw back of it is the back blast it creates when it is fired. It can be seen in some of the pictures below.
RPG being fired.
RPG rockets and boosters.
RPG being fired. Note back blast behind weapon.
RPG airburst: at 900m the rocket detonates.
RPG again from standing position.
Explosion on impact.
40mm Grenade launcher, or "snotneus"
A few brave donkeys.
R1 rifle grenade.
Rifle grenade impact.
7.62 LMG or MAG impact on wall.
Eventually we started going on what was called a "Myn Jag" (mine hunt/sweep), the platoon would go out for a week or two at a time and follow up on information about possible ammo cashes in and near Sector 10. This turned out to be great fun. I was to spend time in the bush again, lots of mine sweeping. Seeing new places, visiting a lot of the bases in Sector 10. Some of the names I can remember; Ombalantu, Mahnene, Ruacana, Omungalumwe, Ocongo, Alpha Tower, and other bases of which I can not remember the names.
It would all start with us getting the orders saying that we will be going out in a day or two. We would then start preparing and making arrangements for food, and have the Buffels checked. Food is in the form of ration packs or " rat packs " as they are affectionately referred to. Fortunately, one of the guys in the section had a brother working as a chef, so we would get all kinds of stuff to take along; potatoes, onions, tamatoes, cheese, cooking oil, canned sausages and meat, bread, rusks, condensed milk, long life milk and more. On some outings I think we ate better than the guys at base!
We would make sure that all our personal kit was in order and on the morning that we moved out, the last stop was the magazine to get extra ammo and other weapons. This consisted of a 7.62mm LMG and a 40mm grenade launcher for each section, we would also get an RPG7, trip flares and claymore mines.
On one occasion we were in the process of drawing weapons when the new store man was playing with a detonator that had been removed from a fragmentation grenade. Several of us told him to put it down, but he was a real " GV " and would not listen. Then come the bang, followed by the scream, 2 fingers missing. Well, we warned him!
Here are some pictures from Alpha tower, which provided water for the surrounding areas.
Just North of the tower the sealed road ended at the border line.
Looking towards the East.
Just beside the tower.
Looking towards the West.
One of the most interesting mine hunts was in the Ruacana area. We went North along the Kunene river. It is a really nice place. Suddenly there is a huge river and mountains, compared to the flatness and dryness of Ovamboland. This was almost heaven. As much water as you can use! You will see in the pictures that we did make use of it as much as we could. There was always the reality that there are crocodiles in the river, so we kept an eye out for them at all times, or shall I say most of the time.
One day we are walking in one of the countless waterways when the most arrogant guy in the section stepped in between two rocks and his foot got stuck. He was totally convinced that he was being attacked by a croc, so when he shouted `crocodile!' we all got out of the water before he finished the word. He was very angry at all of us because no one wanted to help him and we were all thinking of ourselves only.
First view as you come over the hill.
Old dug out canoe floating in the river.
Filling the Buffels water tank. At least on this mission there was enough water.
Gun ships came in to evacuate the interpreter.
Calueque dam wall.
Ruacana dam wall.
Aerial photograph of the countless waterways and rapids.
The other outings could not really compare to this one at Ruacana. On our way back, we stopped for one night at the Army base and we slept in the Sappers' area. They were in the process of installing or repairing the pool, but it could be used, so that night we relaxed in the pool with a couple of beers. The suction pipe from the pump was lying loose in the pool. It did not take Smiley (the section clown) long to try and use this pipe to provide himself with some under belt action. Then suddenly he stopped smiling and could not get a word out. One of the guys was quick to add 2 and 2 and jumped out to switch off the pump. Smiley got his jewels stuck in the suction pipe. Nothing sucks like a Suba pump! ask Smiley, he knows!
On the weekend of the Currie Cup final in 1986, we were on a mine hunt again and somehow three goats found their way into the back of the Buffels bin. We stopped for the night at an old base, Omungalumwe. It was used by some units in the SWA territorial force. There were some shops in the area that sold alcohol. Not a large variety, but they had enough for us. You can choose between Old Brown Sherry and Cane Spirit. We were all in agreement that it would be much more effective if you take one of each. So that is what we did.
We stopped early that day so that we could get the goats prepared and get ready for the rugby, which we will listen to on the radio. The goats were slaughtered and the firewood was collected, so we started drinking. It did not take long for us to forget about the rugby and started the fires so we could braai (BBQ) the goats. Sherry and Cane is not a good combination, and goats are not meant to be cooked over a really hot fire. None the less, we still had fun that night! The next morning no one knew what the rugby score was.
The whole day Smiley would scratch his back vigorously against any hard object, at about noon he took his shirt off and found that one of those big hairy worms had found its way into his shirt. He had the itch until we got back to base a couple of days later.
Another time that stood out was when we stopped over at one of the bases for the night and got into a huge brawl with the Parabats who were at the base. For some reason, they and us did not mix.
Here are some more pictures from those mine hunts:
One particular experience stands out as being very unpleasant. We were on a routine mine hunt and got new orders saying that we had to go to a certain location and wait there until further notice. When we got there, there were some other units including Recces, 101 Battalion and Koevoet. I ran into one of the guys I had worked with earlier in the year while working with OM.
The Lieutenant got his new orders and we were off to the new location. We were told that some sort of operation was going to happen and we are suppose to set up an ambush to stop any runaways that came our way. We did not have enough water with us, so we had to drink from the shauna close by. We could not make fire to boil the water, so we had to use it as is. This is what it looked like;
It was used by the locals and their animals, so we thought; `If they can use it so can we.' We all get really sick from it and we still had to wait in that location until further notice. The medic's supplies did not include stuff that could help us. After several days of agony, we got the word that we could move out. We set some new records to get to the closest base to get some medication and clean water! You do not realize how important water is until you have to go without it.
The sunsets were awesome and I wish I had taken more pictures of them. Here are the few that I did take;
We got to go to Windhoek to represent the Engineering corps in a type of games event were you would jump over walls, pull water carts and do all kinds of silly stuff.
It was fun because we got to go into the city a couple of nights. We made a big dent in the local supply of Windhoek Lager. The old rivalry between Sappers and Parabats resulted in a few good fist fights again.
Then it became time to go home and resume our normal lives, the two years was coming to a close. Preparations were made for us to return to Bethlehem. All the rules of what could go back and what could not go back was explained several times and yet some guys did not listen. One guy was caught with a R4 rifle magazine full of rounds. Another was caught with a Bushbaby (small nocturnal animal). There was a few others caught with all sort of stuff that was not allowed back.
The flight back was in a Boeing and was very pleasant compared to the normal Flossie flights that we got used to. We spend about a week back in Bethlehem before we finally got to go home. The leadership in the base where we stayed was dysfunctional and it turned out to be a very bad end to what I personally saw as a very uplifting and good experience.
My biggest criticism of the SADF would have to be the way they choose their leaders, and the lack of decency in most of them. I saw some of them that should be locked up because they are mentally ill, and yet they are put in charge of young people who are thrown into a war. I did meet some leaders, mostly career soldiers that were respectable and good people that did not need to step on smaller people to inflate their own egos.
I am one of the lucky ones, I went back to a job and just carried on with my life. I choose to forget the negative and just held on to the good things I learned. As time goes on I would have less and less contact with the guys I met in the Army; we did not really have anything in common anymore.
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