Subject: U.S. mission ends in East Timor

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Honolulu Advertiser (Honolulu) December 24, 2002

U.S. mission ends in E. Timor

Oahu-based units played key role in relief efforts


The U.S. military presence in East Timor was all but eliminated last week, a little more than half a year after the East Asian island became the world's newest nation on May 20.

Pacific Command at Camp Smith closed down its U.S. Support Group East Timor, set up in the country of 800,000 in February 2000 to coordinate infrastructure repair and humanitarian assistance, including dental and medical care for tens of thousands of East Timorese.

Eight East Timor students at the East-West Center in Honolulu met Wednesday with about an equal number of Hawaii Army reservists - some of whom deployed to the island in 1999 after violent clashes - to say thank you for the help.

Col. Paul Maubert, a Marine reservist who oversaw the final days of the support group's mission, also was at the meeting.

"We've never forgotten what you have done in East Timor," Jesuina Gomes told the group of Americans. "We'll never (repay) all your sacrifices."

The lowering of the U.S. flag on Dec. 16 by the support group has left the U.S. Embassy with the mission of supporting American interests in East Timor.

A Pacific Command representative at the embassy will serve as a liaison to coordinate future humanitarian missions and manage a military-to-military program with the East Timor Defense Force.

"We have a vested interest in the development and success of (East Timor's) defense force, and our relationship will grow in the coming years," said Brig. Gen. David P. Fridovich, Pacific Command deputy director for operations.

In August 1999, East Timorese voted in a referendum for independence from Indonesia, which had occupied the island 400 miles north of Australia since 1975 following the collapse of Portugal's overseas empire.

Before and after the vote, a brutal reprisal saw the Indonesian military and militias kill nearly 2,000 people and drive 250,000 from their homes. After Indonesia agreed to United Nations peacekeepers the same year, an Australian-led coalition was authorized, and U.S. forces arrived.

Joe Uson of Mililani, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve with the 9th Regional Support Command's 322nd Civil Affairs Brigade, found deserted streets in the capital of Dili when he arrived in 1999.

"We saw burnt buildings everywhere. It was just total destruction," said Uson, 47.

With the coalition force in place the fighting had stopped, but the fear remained. But even that "rapidly started to change," said Uson, who was in East Timor for four months. "I think the people had a sense once the (coalition) forces began to grow that there was a sense of security."

Pacific Command drew from its component commands - U.S. Army Pacific, Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces and Marine Forces Pacific - to provide personnel and support including planners, civil affairs support and heavy-lift helicopters.

U.S. Support Group East Timor was set up in 2000, and using labor and equipment provided by more than 20 U.S. Navy ships and five amphibious ready group visits, the group of between 10 and 30 military members coordinated more than 80 renovation projects, including rebuilding and refurbishing schools, medical clinics, orphanages and power plants throughout the island.

The Pearl Harbor-based destroyer Fletcher and the cruiser Chosin made relief stops in East Timor last year, while the destroyers O'Kane and Russell provided assistance this year.

Lt. Col. Lynne Berry Westlake, a civil affairs officer with the 9th Regional Support Command, said providing aid in East Timor was the highlight of her military career.

"To meet and work alongside people who suffered or witnessed unimaginable tortures, who had family members who simply 'disappeared' or were victims of the violence inflicted by the Indonesian army or militias, was very humbling," Westlake said.

The United States had severed all ties with Indonesia's armed forces, but in August, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that military training would resume with Indonesia's police forces as part of $50 million in counterterrorism assistance over two years. Pull-quote:

photos: : Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit work on a school project in East Timor. The 11th MEU and the USS Boxer Amphibious Ready Group arrived April 9 to conduct humanitarian missions in support of U.S. Support Group East Timor. The group ended its mission in East Timor Dec. 16. STAFF SGT. DONALD E. PRESTON U.S. Marine Corps - A Marine CH-53 helicopter transports relief supplies to Bokano, East Timor. Pacific Command, based at Camp Smith, drew from each of its four component commands for the nearly three-year humanitarian mission. LEFT: Children from Hatolina, East Timor, helped a Marine store a net after building supplies were air dropped April 10. The U.S. Embassy in East Timor will coordinate future humanitarian relief efforts in the new island nation. LANCE CPL. MACE GRATZ - U.S. Marine Corps

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