NATO forces helping Afghanistan return to civilian rule have already began withdrawing. The United States, by far the largest contributor, announced that 34,000 troops will have returned home by mid-2014. The drawdown will be completed in 2014 for most nations taking part in the Afghan mission.
Although Australians and New Zealanders make up the largest number of soldiers from Oceania, smaller Pacific nations are also playing their part. They are drawn mainly from Guam, which has close to 600 men and women serving.
Every part of the Pacific has soldiers serving, from tiny Micronesian states: Palau and Northern Marianas for instance; to Polynesians: Samoa, Tonga and Tahiti; there are even a few Melanesians from PNG, Solomon Islands and Fiji. (Most Fijian soldiers are deployed either in Iraq or on the Golan Heights.)
PiPP exists to stimulate informed public policy debate. We have an interest in investigating the role Pacific islanders are playing in these international conflicts. The experience of Pacific soldiers, both at home and abroad, is an important and often-overlooked issue.
What sort of policies are in place to cater for the physical and mental needs of service members once they return from the war zone? Given the financial constraints of many of participating nations, how are national governments responding to their needs?
PiPP’s Communications Director Ben Bohane spent a month in Afghanistan observing how Pacific island soldiers are performing as the international aspects of the conflict wind down. Ben embedded with the US Army’s Guam Battalion, following its members as they went about their work. Name notwithstanding, Task Force Guam features other Pacific nationalities as well. Ben was fortunate that under one roof, so to speak, he was also able to meet up with many Pacific nationalities. They spoke to him about their experiences and how they have coped since the decade long conflict began.
Their stories will help to inform policy makers decide the best outcomes for their own soldiers on other missions.