For the next few months, in Holsworthy, we trained hard, and even spend 5 weeks in the Pacific, assisting with disaster relief after a devastating cyclone, where we helped with major infrastructure projects, and clearing away all of the debris left afterwards, and we even spent Christmas and New Year on the pacific islands, which wasn’t too bad, considering that it was my first time overseas.
When the time arrived for me to return to Western Australia, I was now looking forward to approaching fire training. After dinner on the Thursday evening, at the end of my final day at Holsworthy, I completed my packing and with the hire car that I had organised the day before, I drove out of the base to start my three days of leave before flying to Perth.
I had booked myself into a motel in the outer suburbs of Sydney, and I had an early night, as I was planning to do a day trip to the Blue Mountains the following day. After enjoying a magnificent day out in the mountains, I returned to the city relaxed and happy, only to find the Army MP’s waiting for me.
“Staff Sergeant, you need to return to Holsworthy with us” the MP ranked a Sergeant said to me, “Sure, but could you tell me what this is all about?” I asked seeming a little confused about what this was all about. “You are under arrest for being AWOL” the other MP said to me. “Hang on a moment, you have your wires crossed somehow, I have orders for reassignment, as of 1800 hours yesterday, I am on three days of R & R leave, before I go to my new assignment” I explained to the MP’s.
“Can you provide any documentation to prove this Staff Sergeant” the Sergeant MP asked me, “yes sure, just follow me to my motel room, it is stored in there amongst my luggage” I replied, and the MP’s indicated for me to lead the way. When we arrived at my motel room, I saw that the door was slightly ajar. “Sergeant, this is not how I left my room, when I left this morning, I have been in the Blue Mountains all day, and left at 0700 this morning” I said when I saw something unusual.
“Very well Staff Sergeant, let us have a look first” the sergeant said to me, and I stepped aside, and the two MP’s walked in, and as I entered and found the place trashed, I was a little stunned, ‘Err, I definitely did not leave my room like this” I stated, “Don’t touch anything, we will get someone to come and check this, in the meantime, can you find that paperwork that you mentioned?” the sergeant said to me.
“It was in my suitcase front pocket, my orders were from Lt Colonel Harding” I said to the MP’s, and I watched them approach my luggage, even though most of its contents were scattered around the room. “The front pocket is empty Staff Sergeant, there is nothing in there” the corporal MP said. “I suggest that we seal the room and head back to Holsworthy and see if we can find out what is happening” the Sergeant MP suggested.
Twenty-five minutes later we arrived back at the Army base, I was taken to the base detention centre and placed in a cell, and informed that once this matter is cleared up, then I would be released, unless the being AWOL has been proven. I couldn’t understand why this was happening, and I hoped that Lt Colonel Harding will be able to fix it quickly. About an hour after I was placed in a cell, one of the MP’s returned.
“I have learnt that Lt Colonel Harding is currently in transit to Perth, so he cannot be contacted, and the Base CO has gone away for the long weekend, so he can’t be contacted either. We have done a search for a duplicate of your orders, and there is nothing in the files for your orders” the sergeant MP said to me.
“I don’t understand why this is happening to me, I can assure you that I do have orders to fly to Perth, if you check with Qantas, you will find that I am booked on the 0815 hr on Monday Flight to Perth, which was arranged by Lt Colonel Harding” I said feeling distressed that this was happening. Half an hour later, I was given some dinner, and told that I would be in detention till at least the remainder of the weekend, which I was not too pleased about.
The following morning after a very unsettled night in detention, as I was delivered some breakfast, I asked for a phone call, which I was entitled to, and an hour later I was escorted to a very bare room, where there was just a small table, chair and a telephone. I considered calling my mum, but decided against that, so I telephoned the reception of Campbell Barracks in Perth, and asked to speak to Lt Colonel Harding.
I was informed that he would not be reporting for duty until Monday, and I asked the receptionist to get a message to him as it was urgent, asking the Lt Colonel to call me at Holsworthy base Sydney, as soon as possible. Feeling a little disappointed that I couldn’t get hold of the CO, I was escorted back to the cell that I was allocated, and I lay on the bed and just stared at the ceiling.
For the remainder of the day and for the following day, I did some basic exercises to try and keep occupied, as well as eating the three meals a day. When Monday morning arrived, I was summoned to the same room where I made the phone call two days earlier, unsure who I would be seeing, when I saw the phone off the hook, I picked it up. “Hello?” I said cautiously, “Staff Sergeant Benning, what on earth are you doing in detention at Holsworthy, you are meant to be here in Perth” Lt Colonel Harding said to me.
I explained to him that I had completed my last day at Holsworthy, and drove to Sydney where I had booked a motel for three days, then on Friday morning, I spent the day in the Blue Mountains, returning to find the MP’s waiting for me, and arresting me for being absent without leave, and that I have been in detention since Friday evening. The Lt Colonel told me to hang tight, and that he would have this mess sorted quickly.
Feeling happy that I had finally been in contact with the Lt Colonel, I was returned to my cell, only to be released just half an hour later, and I was summoned to the Commanding Officer’s office at Holsworthy. Once again, I explained everything, including receiving orders that were signed by Lt Colonel Harding, for change of employment status from full time to part time, and transfer to Campbell Barracks, and that after completing my last day at Holsworthy, I commenced three days of R & R leave, before travelling to Perth.
The base CO asked me to remain at Holsworthy until the whole mess is sorted out, which I agreed to, and I caught a taxi to the motel where my belongings were still located, and after paying the extra two days for the room, I returned to the base where I was given temporary accommodation. For the next few days, I had a number of teleconference meetings with Lt Colonel Harding, and the Base CO, to work out what caused this problem.
On Thursday morning, I was summoned to the Base CO’s office again, unaware of what has happened in the past two days. “Staff Sergeant Benning, I wish to apologise to you for what has happened to you, we have found out what has happened, which has resulted in two NCO’s being charged. It appears that there are a few people on this base, who were not happy with the special treatment that you have been getting, with a rapid promotion, and been given special treatment, with change of employment and transfer” the CO explained to me.
“So, what happened, what did they do, to stop me from going to Perth?” I asked, “Well it appears, that although you received your copy of the transfer, they did not forward the paperwork that Lt Colonel Harding had submitted, for your change of employment status and transfer, they also have admitted to breaking into your motel room, and removing your copies of the orders, plus your transport details, and they also made the anonymous call to the MP’s, reporting you as absent without leave” the CO said to me.
“Well that is all good, that it has been resolved, but it still leaves me missing two days of R & R leave, plus the first week of my training at the Fire Service academy in Perth, plus my unwarranted detention for three nights and two days” I replied angrily, “That is enough of that thankyou staff sergeant” the Base CO responded, “Sir, I request permission to leave the base so I can travel to Perth” I said as calmly as possible, and with permission granted I packed up and caught a taxi to Sydney.
During the taxi ride, I searched for flights to Perth, and I was pleased to be able to get a seat booked for an evening flight, leaving at 1735 and arriving at 2040, once that was organised, I looked up hostel accommodation in Sydney, so I could have a short rest before the flight, and once that confirmed, I had the taxi driver take me to the hostel. Although the accommodation was fairly basic, I had my own room with bathroom, and after checking in, I made a call to Lt Colonel Harding in Perth.
“Hello Staff Sergeant Benning, Good to hear that you have resolved the issues regarding your detention, I have just had a lengthy discussion with the Colonel at Holsworthy, and he mentioned that you were not too happy about what had happened, and that it made you miss starting Fire Academy training, which you will now have to wait till the next round of training in July” Lt Colonel Harding said to me, once we were connected. “Sir, what am I to do now, I do not want to be anywhere near Holsworthy if possible” I replied, and I heard the Lt Colonel chuckle.
“I don’t blame you for not wanting to be there, and I agree, so now it leaves you in a bit of a loop hole, I have made some telephone calls, and I have assigned you to do some more training, firstly at the Bradshaw Field Training Facility, in the Northern Territory, followed by some specialist training at the Swan Island Training Area in Victoria” the Lt Colonel said to me. “Sir I have heard of Swan, isn’t that the Top-Secret facility used by the SAS regiment? I haven’t heard of Bradshaw before” I responded, “You are right that Swan is a Top-Secret facility, as it is also used for Counter Terrorism training by ASIO, and by the time you have completed your training at Bradshaw, I will have secured your top-level security clearance, I will keep in touch. Your flight to Perth has been changed for you, so you now fly to Darwin, then travel across to Bradshaw, Good luck” the Lt Colonel said to me and ended the call.
I was a little shocked at what I had been told, top level training and security training? I had no idea why this was happening, but I decided to accept it and see where this takes me. I called the airline, and was told the changes to my flight, set for 1300 hours, so I went to a restaurant not far from the hostel and had a light meal, before collecting my luggage and heading to the airport, for my flight to Darwin.
I was not sure what to do when I arrived in Darwin, but I was surprised to see an Army soldier waiting for me, with a name plate with my surname on it, “Benning”. Since I was in casual clothes, I smiled and moved towards the soldier, “I am Staff Sergeant Mitchell Benning” I announced, as I reached the soldier, who had the rank of Warrant Officer. “Hello Mr Benning, can you please show me your ID, and give me the three awards that you have received” the Warrant Officer said to me.
I pulled out my wallet that contained my Army ID, “That would be the OM - Order of Merit, the SG - Star of Gallantry, and the DSC – Distinguished Service Cross” I replied as I presented my ID. “That is the correct response and ID, “Welcome to Darwin, we are going to travel to Bradshaw by plane, which will take about 90 minutes in a DHC 6 Twin Otter, mainly because the airfield at Bradshaw is gravel and only 1200 metres long” the Warrant Officer said to me, as he led the way outside, where the very humid tropical breeze hit me in the face.
Once in the vehicle with the air-conditioner on high, we drove 8 kilometres around to the other side of the airport to the RAAF Base, as crossing the airfield was not permitted. Once onboard the waiting plane, seated and belted in, we took off on the smaller defence runway, and turned to just west of South, for Bradshaw, which I was told is approximately 354 kilometres away. When we finally landed at the airfield, there was a 4wd vehicle waiting for us, to take us the 1 ½ kilometres to the administration building, where I was to meet with the training facility commanding officer -Major Errington.
“Staff Sergeant Mitchell Benning reporting, sir” I said as I entered the CO’s office, and the CO motioned for me to enter and sit down, as he continued to read a file, before he eventually looked up at me. “Well Staff Sergeant, you have had a very short but exciting start to your career in the Army, and now you have been posted here for some specialist training, I also read in your file that you have recently been given the highest possible security clearance, so someone is obviously looking after your fast-tracked career.
Your file there in my desk gives very little information about what you have done so far, except that you did very well in your basic training, with exceptional skills in sniper shooting, you have High Altitude Parachuting training, and that you have been attached to the Royal Engineers with the SAS, oh and the three military and one fires service awards” the Major said to me. You will be here for 4 weeks to fine tune your sniper training, and then you will be posted to an undisclosed location, which I have been told you already know about” the Major said and I gave a little smile and nod of my head to indicate that the information was correct.
“The warrant officer will show you to your quarters, and brief you on the facilities here, your training schedule and any other necessary information, that will be all for now” the Major said to me and I snapped to attention and exited the office, and made my way back to the administration reception area, where the Warrant Officer was waiting for me, and over the next two hours, I was given all the information that I required and shown to the living quarters.
I was caught a little by surprise, when I came across Warrant Officer Mike Owens, who I knew from Campbell Barracks. “Hi Mike, what on earth are you doing here” I said sounding surprised, “Hi Sir Cub, it’s good to see you again, I have been here for a few weeks, like you I am good at sniper shooting, and they wanted me to give you the additional training” Mike replied.
“Yea, I was meant too be going back to Campbell, but I ran into a little bit of trouble, that changed everything, some bastards at Holsworthy didn’t like me getting special treatment and made sure that I got into trouble for being absent without leave, even thou I had orders to transfer back to Campbell” I explained. “Yes, I heard about it from Lt Colonel Harding about that, he wasn’t very happy when he learnt the result of the investigation. Oh, by the way the Major has an instant dislike to you, he doesn’t like being kept in the dark” Mike said to me and we both chuckled about this.
The following morning, after an early breakfast, Warrant Officer Owens took me along an access track north east of the base, for a distance of about 9 kilometres, where he stopped just after a bend. “Right first thing I want to do is to test your distance accuracy, we have a 7 kilometres straight track ahead, so we are going to see how good you are, lets close off the track first, then we will set you set up, before I go and set up the targets” WO Owens said to me, and ten minutes later I was laying on the ground getting my scope set, while WAO Owens drove off down the track, with us sat ear pieces as our only form of communications.
Copyright July 2017 Preston Wigglesworth All Rights Reserved