By Captain Tom Maclean

A task group of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel deployed to the island nations of Tonga and Tuvalu as part of the Australian Government’s efforts to foster security, sovereignty, peace and prosperity in the region.

An Australian Army military training team visited Tonga from April 8-17 and trained soldiers from His Majesty’s Armed Forces.

More than 60 ADF members then engaged with military, security and cultural leaders, as well as local communities, in a series of activities in Tonga and Tuvalu from April 18-May 4.

“This short deployment achieved a great amount.”

A sailor of HMAS Gascoyne throws a line to a Funafuti wharf worker as the ship pulls alongside in Tuvalu. Photo: Leading Seaman Craig Walton

The task group’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Will Harvey, said security and stability in the South West Pacific was a priority for all nations in the region.

“This short deployment achieved a great amount,” Lieutenant Colonel Harvey said.

“It identified future cooperation opportunities and contributed to Defence’s enhanced regional engagement initiative that demonstrates Australia’s commitment to our Pacific partners.”

As part of civil-military cooperation, Army reservist Sergeant Rob Young engaged with local police and Australian Federal Police officers.

“It’s really satisfying to represent Australia and build relationships across the Pacific,” Sergeant Young said.

“I hope our ongoing and increasing work with police forces in the region will support stability and help officers look after local residents.”

The Australian Army Band played a significant part in the deployment.

It entertained patients and staff at Tonga’s main hospital, joined Tongan musicians at multiple church services during Easter and performed in front of Tonga’s King and Queen at Tonga’s Anzac Day dawn service.

Australian Army Sergeant Deborah O'Toole with local visitors at the Princess Margaret hospital in Tuvalu during the Australian Army band performance. Photo: Leading Seaman Craig Walton

In Tuvalu, the band teamed up with English musician Joss Stone, who was visiting as part of a world tour, and performed a concert for local residents.

Australian Army Band member Lance Corporal Jonathan Apps said he and his fellow musicians used their skills to build diplomatic bridges.

“We really appreciated the warm welcome from the communities we visited. No matter what language you speak or culture you’re from, music unites people,” Lance Corporal Apps said.

The task group also worked with the Tongan Red Cross to prepare and paint a shipping container, which will be filled with disaster relief supplies and serve as a meeting point for Tongans in the event of a natural disaster.

“I hope our ongoing and increasing work with police forces in the region will support stability."

In Tuvalu, ADF members also repainted a room in the island nation’s main hospital.

Later this year, the task group will travel to Samoa as part of the ongoing engagement activities.