A small contingent of ADF personnel is deployed with United Nations Command in South Korea, assisting with armistice compliance while monitoring within the demilitarised zone.
The Australian contingent, as part of Operation Linesmen, is responsible for monitoring the inter-Korean project to recover war remains within the zone and ensure compliance with the terms of the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement.
ADF personnel are on their third rotation.
Warrant Officer Class 2 Thomas Saxby is deployed as part of the three-person Australian observer team.
He said the deployment was like no other.
“Even though I’ve deployed on numerous operations, I was unprepared for the emotional impact of remains recovery,” WO2 Saxby said.
“These soldiers are being unearthed exactly where they fell 70 years ago.
“It’s also profoundly moving to see the respectful manner in which remains are handled and repatriated by the task force.”
Even though I’ve deployed on numerous operations, I was unprepared for the emotional impact of remains recovery.
The observer team ensures all activities, including construction, security overwatch, clearance of explosive remnants of war and respectful exhumation of battlefield casualties are done in accordance with the terms of the armistice.
Since 2019, South Korea has been recovering remains at Arrowhead Hill within the zone – the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Korean War.
The remains recovery initiative is one of the measures agreed to by the two Koreas when they signed the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjom Declaration in 2018.
Leading Aircraftman Joo Lee is the Australian team’s interpreter.
He remains front and centre of every Linesmen engagement, from briefing visiting VIPs, addressing groups of Republic of Korea Army soldiers, to arranging daily necessities like meals and accommodation.
“It’s an enormous responsibility to ensure the Korean Task Force and our team are communicating effectively,” Leading Aircraftman Lee said.
“I feel fortunate to be part of such an amazing opportunity.
“The role of interpreter gives me a fascinating window into high-level decision-making.”