I was called by my Operations Officer Major Abang Hamdan Abang Hadari , for a briefing to the UN Headquarters, the former location of the US embassy in Mogadishu a heavily fortified area. This was in April 1994. I did not know what was in store for me, the only thing I knew was I was getting out of Mogadishu. Everyone I knew wanted to get out of Mogadishu. If one stayed in Mogadishu, you had to stay in the heavily fortified University compound. I pity those support element chaps who never got a chance to wander out of that place. The only time in 6 months they got out was to Kenya for a well deserved 4 day R&R weekend.
I was told by a couple of white guys, not sure which country they were from. The rest of the guys in the briefing room were Pakistani, Indian, New Zealand and Australian Army Officers apart from Major Abang. I was informed that the convoy would consist of 50 trucks carrying bags of grain to Baidoa. Okay, fine, I am going into the desert, wow, it struck me, me alone against the militia and the elements. I told myself, what about maps. I blurted out about the maps, okay no problem, the operational people had no problems about issuing me maps. Yes, they gave me air maps, which have squares that are 100 kms by 100 kms, not the normal 1:63360 or 1:50000. The next thing, where on earth do I get my convoy ? Oh yes, at the seaport. The time I would be getting the convoy would be around 4 am in the morning. My contact was a guy with a Somali name, question , could my contact speak English ? The answer was in the positive. I was trying to visualise 50 trucks all in a row moving at 50 kilometers per hour. Maximum time I would reach Baidoa would be 5 hours. I am an optimist.
So what would I need ? I needed alot of troops, alot of armoured vehicles, a diesel bowzer ( fuel tanker), a high mobility load carrier (HLMC), a logistics truck for spare tyres, an armoured fitter and a recovery. Well, what I needed and what I actually got were two totally different things. I got 57 soldiers including one platoon commander who had yet to attend tactics course, fresh out of Royal Military College. Great !! This what I ever wanted. I got an Armoured Fitter Vehicle, a Land Rover Fitter vehicle, a Volvo recovery, a 3 ton Tata vehicle to store 45 gallon drums of diesel and petrol. The fitter vehicles carried fast moving spares for our armoured vehicles. The total number of Infantry Fighting Vehicles was 5 (inclusive of mine). I was given a bonus of a 20 mm Oerlikon, this was another armored vehicle, from the anti tank platoon of the support company.
I got my platoon commander to organise all the logistics and all. Yeah, I forgot to mention that I had every confidence in him, after all I have been training him since he arrived in late December 1993. He had a capable platoon sergeant and a capable mech corporal. The long suffering crew of my vehicle comprised of my driver, my vehicle lance corporal, my signaller and batman. Any extra men who wanted to ride with me was at my pleasure. The other vehicles in the platton had a crew of two and 8 fighting soldiers per vehicle, called a section. Therefore a platoon had 3 vehilces and 1 command vehicle. Plus mine making it 5. The anti-tank vehicle comprised of two men and a tank hunting part of 2 who were equipped with the 84mm Carl Gustav. Thus making it 4. The AVF had 3 men, the Land Rover had 2 men, the 3 ton truck had 2 men and the recovery had 2 men.
Of course, knowing that I would not be able to get my hand on beer, I went to the Israeli PX to top up, as the Maccabee beers were excellent. On the way there I saw some Saudi soldiers who were in the process of pulling out of Somalia, loading themselves with cold beers under a summer hut (umbrella). They were trying to make eye contact with a pretty Jewess at the PX. The Saudi solidiers are equipped like the Americans, they wear American cams, boots, M16A2's and drive Humvees. The only difference between them and the Americans is their prominent beer gut they carry. Also due the the fact that they love roasted Kibas (Somali goats) placed on kus kus (Arab food). I used to do that with the Tunisian troops, used to gorge myself. I drove to this PX using a Land Rover, along with my batman, whose name was Micheal Siam, he was an Iban chap from Sarawak, a very dependable guy in tight situations.
I had the beers placed in my vehicle, in a haybox full of ice. Of course I have to give instructions to my soldiers not to touch the beers, that I would personally castrate them if they even touched a drop of my beer. I used another case of beer to warm up with my brother officers. Hey, man anything could happen tomorrow. For tomorrow we could meet with death. During this gatherings I used to tell the officers, I have been around the world 10 times, I have looked death in the eye, I have seen goats fuck in a marketplace.... but I ain't seen no shit like the bullshit that goes around here !!! To which everyone bursts out laughing. The warmth and camraderie during those gatherings were priceless. All of us had families and loved ones, we did not know what lay ahead for us. The dangers, challenges and tribulations.
The guys who stayed with me in that particular room were, Captain Ivan Lee, the Adjutant, Captain Mukhtiar Singh, our Quartermaster, Captain Juan Chow Huat, OC Hq Company, Captain Ho of the Support Company and Captain Subramaniam who was the 2IC of Charlie Company. The setup was the envy of many, our room was air-conditioned !!!! Hey, we had the QM who used to go around other contingents for unused stuff, he was a very good negotiator. We reaped the benefits of his skills. Knowing, that we were going to stay together for 7 months, we picked the right company. Others always drop by, not only was there booze, there were lots and lots of books meaning novels which we scrounged from the Americans, they always had alot of books. Our room was a library of sorts.
I checked on my people for their preparations in an inebriated state, they were good and there was no cause for worries. The important stuff like food, water, ammunition and fuel were already loaded up, enough for 5 days, therefore we could fight any battle. I briefed my Boss, Major Christopher Joseph and Colonel Radzi the Malaysian Contingent Commander and of course my CO, Lt Colonel Muhd Mukhtar Ibrahim . After that I returned to my booze party in my very heavily guarded accomodation. Heavily guarded means, "non piss heads" not allowed. We had a large refergerator given by the Germans, which Captain Juan Chow Huat managed to pry out of the Germans, he was a talented PR type of a guy. After we polished off the case of Maccabees, I left my room. I went over to where the soldiers stayed, to sleep over there so as to not over sleep. The time to get the last minute stuff and briefings would take up some time. So everyone was to be up and around at about at 2 am in the morning, whilst the rest of the world slept.
I was called on my walkie talkie, which was being charged under my canvas bed. That was a wake up call. There were other stuff beside me on my side table, my M79, M4A1,M73 grenades, a bandolier of 40mm rounds, my jacket with 4 magazines, 2 magazine holder to ride on my thighs, my pistol holster with spare magazines, my kevlar helmet and of course my bullet proof vest which had two pieces of ceramic plates, front and back, to protect the vital organs. The ceramic plates had inscriptions stating, "7.62 NATO Defeating". I was confident that any 7.62 that hit me, would be defeated, until the Americans mentioned something about "slap rounds". Slap rounds are supposed to hit armour and go right through them, I was shown those by the American Green Berets, they were 5.56mm. I told them in no uncertain terms that they were cheats and spoilsports.