Puckapunyal is the army base in Central Victoria where I first did my army recruit training and specialist driver training in 1968 when I was called up for National Service. Today, my ‘fellow comrade in arms’, Robert Bruce and I returned there to make a presentation to the Army’s DriverTraining Centre. Robert and I both served in 85 Transport Platoon in Vietnam.
Pucka is a very different place than it was in our day. It seems that the only structures that still remain from those times are the grey huts in which we lived during our time in recruit training.I think that they are now mainly used for lectures and for accommodation by Army Reserve Personnel. Everything is different, and as you would expect, far more modern. Without the map that we were given, we would not have recognised any of the facilities or known our way around. Besides,every facility now seems to have a different name and terminology than the ones we knew. Of course, we are talking about 45 years ago!
The Transport Training Centre is in a modern facility with a large amount of modern office space, a big yard for the various types of vehicles on which the trainees learn to drive and a modern theatre / lecture room.
Our presentation was on the types of transport operations we experienced as drivers in Vietnam – back in 1967 in Robert’s case and in 1969 in my own case. We talked about our training, the types of vehicles we drove. the range of operations in which we were involved and general life as a soldier in Vietnam.
Whilst many things have changed, especially the communications technology now used in the field, many of the army’s basic procedures for driving in convoys and transport operations are based on our experience in Vietnam. I am never quite sure what exactly we achieved through our involvement in the Vietnam War, but one thing for certain is that we updated the Army’s experience of active engagement from WW2. That has kept them in good stead in their involvement in places such as East Timor, Bouganville and Afghanistan.
One of the exciting activities for the day was the opportunity for both of us to not only ride in, but also to drive one of the Army’s new Bushmaster armoured vehicles. These are very impressive 12 tonne pieces of equipment that can come in many forms – command vehicles, ambulances, troop carriers and others. They are a much more appropriate form of transport for troops than on the back of an exposed truck.
The army plan to have hundreds of these vehicles which are originally based on the design of an Irish military vehicle. The Bushmaster is optimised for operations in an environment like northern Australia, and is capable of carrying up to 9 soldiers and their equipment along with fuel and supplies for 3 days. They have an automatic gearbox, air conditioning and some very smart vehicle technology. Like our trucks in Vietnam, they have a gun ring, (or cupola) and can be fitted with a 5.56 mm or 7.62 mm machine gun. They provides a high degree of protection against land mines, using its v shaped hull to deflect the blast away from the vehicle and its occupants. The vehicle’s armour provides protection against small arms fire of up to 7.62 mm calibre. T
he only problem for us old blokes was getting up and down into the back of the vehicle and then getting in and out of the driver’s seat. It’s very tight and a long way up and down!