The Jungle Training Wing (JTW) in Tully is a small organisation that not many people know much about. I was fortunate enough to be selected for a posting here as an instructor but prior to arriving I was uncertain of what I would be getting into. I have been pleasantly surprised about what we do here and want to share my experiences to advertise a lesser known golden posting. I will also talk a little about jungle warfare and the benefits of getting into the jungle to train as an organisation.
It is assessed that 80% (+) of the world’s population will live in cities in the next few decades. Don’t ask me who said that and what data backs it up, but it’s being widely talked about within Army. So why don’t we focus our training in the urban environment and stop doing jungle training? I would like to throw some points in to help answer the question, 'Is jungle warfare still relevant and does it have a part in the future of Army training?'
What’s it like at the Jungle Training Wing?
If, like me, you are a jerk and enjoy sending photos of yourself doing awesome things to rub it in the faces of mates who now work in open plan offices in Canberra, then JTW will give you bulk material. I’ve travelled to Indonesia, South America and hosted teams from other nations. And when I’m not doing that, I’m relaxing at the beach on my doorstep.
Life as an Instructor at JTW can be rewarding if you approach it with a positive mindset. The Wing is responsible for a lot of International Engagements with our regional neighbours, such as Indonesia, Timor-Leste and the United States to name a few. Working with other nations allows for better interoperability when required too. This also allows us to draw on the experience of our neighbours operating in the different levels of primary and secondary jungle environments.
SGT Korfias laying a poppy on a grave of an unknown Australian soldier at the Labuan Commonwealth War Cemetery, Labuan.
During my time so far as an Instructor at JTW I have had the opportunity to travel to Indonesia to conduct training. I also got to go over to Jungle Warfare Division in Brunei to observe the conduct of the British Jungle Warfare Instructor Course (JWIC) where I was able to gain a lot of knowledge and experience from the team there.
British soldiers on the JWIC course prepare the kit for a river crossing.
Sub-Unit Training (SUT) evolutions can be a busy period, but good pers/time management can ease that burden to allow instructors time to rest. As an instructor you will teach on the Visual Trackers Course. The skills of a tracker are a unique and great to have; it's something I wish I had learned when I was a digger.
The work-life balance at JWT is excellent. I am certainly not going to complain about being posted so close to the beach! It’s a great place to socialise and work and I have been able to plan my life as we have a well forecasted program. I’ve even been able to plan a wedding a year away, knowing my availability. The quality of life is excellent.
Jungle for building the basics
The jungle is the perfect environment for soldiers to go back to basics and work on all the one percenters. Should a Tully rotation be a part of the road to ready? I believe it should be, but as a part of the transition from reset to readying when going back to basics is part of the foundation to preparing for readying to take on Ready Battle Group (RBG) responsibilities. A sub-unit rotation through JTW focuses on individual, section and platoon level training. This allows soldiers to learn the basics of living and operating in the jungle. It also allows them to gain a basic level of knowledge of tracking, and gives commanders a base level of knowledge of how effective and how to employ tracking teams; knowledge that we have lost over the years.
Should Jungle Training Wing conduct SUT as Phase 1 of a Rifle Company Butterworth (RCB) rotation, allowing them to come through JTW and learn the theory jungle operations, tracking and survival? This would allow the sub-unit more time for the theory on jungle warfare, tracking and survival prior to deploying and they can then conduct the practical side of the learning once they arrive Malaysia. It also would allow for good continuity of jungle TTP’s between JTW and 230 Training Group. If deemed desirable, this SUT should be conducted just prior to deploying on RCB.
SGT Korfias assisting students on the JWIC with navigation.
The jungle is one of the harshest environments for a soldier to operate in. If soldiers can do the basics and operate in the jungle they can do it in any environment. This was something I never really believed as a junior soldier and it wasn’t until I started teaching and observing jungle operations that I realised how true this is. I believe that some of our soldiers have developed Forward Operating Base (FOB) mentalities and this has led to basic soldier skills declining. This is something I was guilty of even as a junior sergeant, which made being comfortable with being uncomfortable a big wake up call to me.
If you want to be ready to operate in our region, this is the place to prepare. It is a great environment to test low-level team SOPs and to work out how you, as a sub unit, will operate without vehicle platforms.
As I mentioned earlier, I was lucky enough to attend the British Army Jungle Warfare Instructor Course. An Australian version of that would allow us to export the knowledge even wider around Army and support units being able to conduct this training themselves in a dispersed fashion. A train-the-trainer type package on offer to all units across Army might be a step in the right direction.
Logistics in the Jungle
We spend a lot of time training our Combat Arms corps the art of jungle fighting, but how much training do our logisticians get when it comes to resupply in the Close Country Training Environment (CCTE)? Whilst training our combat arms is important, it's vitally important for them to be resupplied. As an infantryman I’m always quick to blame the logistical chain for being unable to meet my resupply needs, or if they do not conduct the resupply properly when it comes to the tactical scenario in the field, but that’s not entirely their fault. After spending time with the British Army’s Jungle Warfare Division in the jungles of Brunei, I realised that we don’t really help prepare our logistics operators for the different environments that we operate in. The jungle brings a whole lot of problems to the table when it comes to resupply and casualty evacuation. With thick canopy, the jungle limits the ability to utilise helicopters to conduct casualty evacuation. It can also be time consuming to cut holes in the canopy to use a winch to get the casualty out. But with the many waterways that are normally found within the jungle, the use of boats to get casualties out is much easier. But to do this you must control the waterways.
As Australia continues to be a partner of choice in our region, understanding how to live and operate and resupply in the CCTE is vital for our army. Should there be a logistics training package for Jungle Ops? Should Logistic Instructors be posted into JTW? I believe they should be: what are your thoughts? Training all aspects of our Army is the only way to continue to grow and perfect the Art of Soldiering.
After all, as they say: 'There’s no need for logisticians without war fighters, but without logisticians there’s no warfighting'.
To control the jungle you need to control all aspects of the environment, including the waterways. Learning the art of Riverine Operations is something that we need to look to incorporate into our training as most of the region is made up of jungle and multiple waterways. The rivers can be used as Main Supply Routes (MSR) to resupply and reinforce troops operating well forward. They can also be used by our enemies to do the same, so controlling these waterways is vital for mission success. Riverine Operations could be a package that fly-away teams from JTW deliver to brigades in order to train units in offensive, defensive and resupply operations. This training could be conducted as a part of the rotational Ground Combat Element's Road to Ready. It is not just a great activity for amphib teams, but also for those going into Ready stages of the Force Generation (FORGEN) cycle.
Conducting Riverine Operations of the JWIC.
One of the next big complexities in the jungle is communications. Due to the thickness of the canopy, VHF comms back to the higher headquarters is near on impossible, but it can be utilised to communicate within your team. The best means of communicating in the jungle is the use of HF communications. Currently, we don’t really do much in the way of training our sub-units in the use of HF comms unless they are in Signals or Recon/Sniper platoons. This leads to issues when platoons and sections go out into the jungle as they don’t have the experience to assess and rectify any issues that occur whilst out on patrol. Being able to effectively use HF comms in the jungle gives units the ability to punch out further and conduct more sustainable operations in the jungle.
During sub-unit rotations, I believe that units should look to use HF comms rather than use VHF. This will give soldiers more confidence in the use of HF and in fault-finding, giving the callsign more effective communications. During sub-unit rotations, company headquarters can also use this as a great tool to conduct step ups and continuation training for its signals detachment.
It might be time to start looking at what we want to get out of our jungle operations training and where we want to take it in the future. SUTs now include company operations and the progression to this level is still developing but achieving good results.
One area that could help in developing our training is instruction in setting up a Fire Support Base to allow low-level administration and soldiering to be supervised in a tactical environment. I know this goes against my earlier comments about a FOB mentality, but it would be the initial step prior to progressing out into long-range patrolling away from infrastructure.
Reintroducing key elements of survival training (eg. shelter construction, skinning and preparing wild animals, and foraging for other native edible elements) is a must. We just need to look back in time to 1942, when the Japanese were expanding their empire in the Pacific and Australian soldiers found themselves cut off from Australia in East Timor. The soldiers of the 2/2 Independent company lived of the land using skills they had been taught. They also used their knowledge to construct a radio to communicate back to Australia (once again something that can be learnt through the use of HF Comms). These are skills that have diminished over time, but I believe are vital for survival in the jungle.
I have really enjoyed my first year at JTW and am looking forward to next year already. I’m no expert and I don’t profess to have the perfect solutions; just some good old fashioned 'hot jungle tips for young players' about life and experiences of being an instructor at JTW. As I have said a few times in this article: if you can operate in the jungle, you can operate anywhere.
Sun rising over Dunk Island with great conditions for fishing.
P.S. There are not many postings by the beach with a great view of Dunk Island… definitely sending this to my mates in Canberra.