In a year defined by closed borders and restricted travel, for most Soldiers and organizations the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant world-wide scale-down of operations.
Despite this, the U.S. Army continues to operate and find new and innovative ways to be successful in the face of new challenges. Task Force Oceania’s Pacific Augmentation Team (PAT), Papua New Guinea (PNG) represents the agility of U.S. Army organizations to achieve mission success regardless of the circumstances.
PNG, located in Oceania, makes up the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. Since 1885, three external powers governed the Pacific island country which gained its independence in 1975.
Task Force Oceania is a new Army task force consisting of Soldiers from all components of the U.S. Army; active-duty, Army Reserve and National Guard. Their mission: to provide continuous support in the Pacific island countries located in Oceania, assist U.S. embassies as needed, and reinforce lasting and meaningful relationships in the region.
The two-Soldier PAT PNG consists, Capt. Christopher Meza, officer-in-charge and Cpl. Louie Kaman, cultural liaison officer. Over the course of their year-long mobilization, they set the precedent for future operations.
As the first iteration of PATs to PNG, the team deployed to the Pacific island country to assist the U.S. Embassy with the planning and facilitation of activities and engagements between Service Component Commands, the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF), and the Australian Defense Force (ADF).
Capt. Meza, as a member of the Wisconsin National Guard (WIANG), the assigned state partner to PNG is in a position to build real and long lasting relationships between the two nations and highlight the U.S. military commitment to the security and stability in the region. The State Partnership Program (SPP) links a state’s National Guard with a partner nation’s military, security forces, and disaster response organizations in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.
Cpl. Louie Kaman’s contribution to the success of PAT’s mission in PNG cannot be understated. Kaman was born and raised in Papua New Guinea. His relationships and intimate knowledge of the culture and people helped bridge the gap between the two countries.
“According to conversations I’ve had with PNGDF Soldiers, they feel like Task Force Oceania and the WIANG SPP will be an added bonus to what they have with the ADF in terms of subject-matter-exchanges, training and engagements,” said Kaman. “They recognize the capabilities and professionalism of the U.S. military and partnering with them will increase the capabilities of the PNGDF and ensure the safety and stability of the nation and the Pacific region as a whole.”
In support of U.S. Embassy efforts in PNG, the team assisted with processing incoming and outgoing U.S. military. They also worked closely with TFO headquarters in Honolulu, U.S. Army Pacific and Indo-Pacific Commands, the Wisconsin SPP, and the PNG defense attaché officer to nominate, process, and complete Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid projects in their entirety.
In addition to their primary role as PATs, the team also took part in many cultural events, one of which was an informal visit to Minj Village, a small and remote community.
“What began as a simple visit to Minj Village turned into a full village integration event to include a traditional meal and gathering, and a tribal conflict resolution,” said Meza.
The partnership with PNG is part of a larger puzzle that builds a free and open Pacific. In any partnership, both sides have perspectives and valuable experiences and lessons to offer.
“We have learned a bit of humility and the importance of slowing down. We, as the U.S. military, are accustomed to taking the ball and just running, but that's not typical of the culture in PNG,” continued Meza.
Kaman is one of the few Soldiers from PNG serving in the U.S Army.
“Every day being in uniform brought admiration from fellow Papua New Guineans and PNGDF soldiers that Papua New Guineans can make it into the U.S. Army,” said Kaman.
Kaman’s contribution to the PAT PNG and its role working with the PNGDF had a significant impact. So much so that he was given the honor of naming a future training exercise—Tamiok Strike. Tamiok means “axe” in the local language.
This is Task Force Oceania’s first year in Papua New Guinea. Each Pacific augmentation team is on a one-year assignment. At the end of each year, they will be replaced to maintain continuous U.S. Army support to Papua New Guinea in the years to come.