10 May 2023

Scherger gears up for major exercise

| Matt Nicholls
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Cape York Weekly understands that RAAF Base Scherger, on the outskirts of Weipa, has been put on notice to host part of Exercise Talisman Sabre 21, a biennial joint program between Australia and the United States.

TS21 is the largest bilateral combined training activity between the Australian Defence Force and US military.

It is designed to test the nations’ respective forces in planning and conducting Combined and Joint Task Force operations and improve the combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and US forces.

Talisman Sabre is conducted every two years and involves more than 10,000 military personnel.

In 2017, troops from Canada, New Zealand and Japan took part in the exercise, which saw 30,000 personnel deployed to Australian training areas.

A spokesperson for ADF would not comment on the involvement of RAAF Base Scherger in next year’s planned TS21 exercise.

The Defence website lists the Cape York Air Force base as a site that is likely to play a role.

However, on-the-ground sources have told Cape York Weekly that military officials have been visiting Scherger regularly this year in readiness for the operation.

Weipa Town Authority chair Michael Rowland said he had heard the rumours about TS21 and hoped that the community could be involved in some way.

He looked back to a two-week exercise in 1982 which brought Weipa to life.

Exercise Kangaroo was a joint warfare exercise held by the Australian Defence Force in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kangaroo 82 involved the 51st Battalion and hundreds of soldiers based at Townsville, as well dozens of Far North SES volunteers, who played the role of the bad guys trying to infiltrate the Weipa town.

Mr Rowland served as a Lance Corporal in the Reserves for six years, including participating in reconnaissance tasks during Kangaroo 82 from an observation post at Cullen Point, Mapoon.

“I didn’t shower for the first week – there were a lot of good bush soldiers from the area, especially the Indigenous soldiers – their knowledge of the country served the army very well when they were moving through the bush,” he said.

A marine hovercraft travelling through the Gulf was meant to land at Rocky Point but instead became bogged at Red Beach.

Mr Rowland said gun pits were scattered through the town and six-wheeled armoured personnel carriers drove through the streets as soldiers searched house by house for the SES (the army had arranged for some home owners to participate).

After word spread that the SES were attempting to blow up the Weipa power station, there was a mock battle at the station with gun fire heard in town.

“The noise was unbelievable,” Mr Rowland said.

RAAF Base Scherger’s exact involvement in Exercise Talisman Sabre is not expected to be confirmed until early next year.

TS21 will run from late June to mid-August and exercise activities will peak during the last two weeks of July, according to the Australian Defence Force.

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