Serving in East Timor was a family affair for the Chief of Staff, Reserve and Youth Division, Colonel Scott Palmer, whose father Glyn served there in 1975 on an Australian medical team.

Colonel Palmer, then a captain, deployed with INTERFET (International Force East Timor) in September 1999, posted to the headquarters of Army's 3rd Brigade as the plans officer. But, he reverted to operations officer for the duration of the deployment.

“We’d been on a heightened notice to move for some weeks post the referendum in late August,” Colonel Palmer said.  

“We knew something was going to execute, but didn’t know when or exactly what force elements might be given the nod to deploy.  

“From early September, as the security situation in East Timor started to deteriorate and international pressure was building for intervention, it was more a question of not whether we would deploy, but when we would.

“We left Darwin via C-130 late afternoon and arrived after nightfall into Komoro Airfield, Dili.”   

It was a hive of activity with troops arriving, the Indonesian military attempting to extract, some refugees still present and militia active within Dili and the surrounds.   

“We carried in what we could - five days per person rations, as much water as we could manage, front-line ammo for pistol and Steyr, as well as all the equipment to establish the command post; computers, log books, key mapping, et cetera,” he said.  

“We basically ran the operations for the brigade’s land forces establishing the initial footprint on the ground in Dili, securing the infrastructure and people and commenced working with the Indonesians and locals to provide security.”

Colonel Palmer said Dili was in chaos when they arrived.

“I remember plenty of smoke plumes, but interestingly enough another characteristic of Dili at the time was many empty homes and businesses – people had fled to the hills to safer ground," he said.  

“The busiest areas were the port and the airport – it was squalor, litter, human dung piles reminiscent of the dark ages and people attempting to flee the country unsure of what lay ahead of them.”  

He left East Timor in December, 1999, having spent his time split between Dili and Suai, on the south coast. He deployed there again for six months from October, 2001.

“I believe we left a collective legacy in Timor-Leste that is being built upon as the country finds her feet,” he said.