Former soldier Bob Bak calls for ‘true’ service recognition

The Wagga  Daily Advertiser reports that one of Wagga’s former soldiers says he and more than 9000 other infantrymen were lied to.

When Bob Bak was sent to Malaysia with the Australian Army Rifle Company in 1971 and again in 1976, he was told the purpose of the operation was for training.

Mr Bak said soldiers and airmen stationed at RAAF Butterworth Air Base between 1970 and 1989 were sent for “strategic protection”, with troops ordered to keep the base and its assets secure.

The operation came at a time when the success of communist terrorism in Vietnam was a global concern. The Australian government, in response, said it would commit troops to Malaysia, as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve Land Forces.

Despite being publicly labelled a “peacetime” deployment, Mr Bak said a number of military documents found the government had been “well aware of the seriousness of the threat”.

According to the Rifle Company Butterworth Review Group, this means personnel deployed to the base during this time were serving in war-like conditions.

“Documents clearly outline a cover-up of these tasks as training,” Mr Bak said. “(But) we were at a constant state of readiness. We were given operational rules of engagement to apply when necessary … that put us in danger.”

For this reason, Mr Bak said the group was demanding recognition of war-like service and pushing for the launch of a public inquiry into the alleged cover-up.

Without the appropriate recognition of service, he said every defence member involved in that operation had been denied significant associated benefits and entitlements, like the Service Pension.

The Daily Advertiser understands the criteria for war-like service requires there to be an “existing enemy threat; an incurred danger, resulting from being present during declared rules of engagement and the carriage of live ammunition; and an expectation of casualties”.

“We were told to carry live ammunition during during security patrols,” Mr Bak said.

“It was also carried by nominated members during training outside the base to protect from wild animals and belligerents … We had orders to shoot.”

He said a recorded “direct army order” called on all senior personnel to refer to all matters as “training-related”, despite orders later revealing the deployment of the Rifle Company Butterworth was for the “security and protection of Australian Defence Force assets and service families living on and near the base”.

Mr Bak said he and other service veterans were tired of being ignored by the government and were calling for further submissions to add to the group’s petition.

The Department of Defence was contacted for comment but failed to respond before deadline.

15th February 2018


  1. I fully agree with this submission. These soldiers of Rifle Company Butterworth (RCB) patrolled around the RAAF Base at night. Our safety as RAAF personnel and our dependents was in their hands. RCB soldiers carried live ammunition and had orders to shoot when required. Likewise for the RAAF Police who patrolled there every night. Communist Terrorists were known to be active and the danger remained extant for years. The Malaysian Government knew it, the Australian Government knew it, RAAF personnel knew it, and RCB soldiers knew it. If that is not active service I don’t know what is. I have no personal axe to grind as I already have Active Service in East Timor and have nothing to lose and nothing to gain in supporting the RCB submission. It is never too late to right a wrong, and deceiving RCB members and the public was a WRONG. It remains a WRONG! In the interests of trust and credibility it must be corrected.

  2. During 1971 we ground troops of the Mirage and associated squadrons at Butterworth, patrolled our areas between end of day and start of next day with live ammunition as well. We each had 10 live rounds and instruction on how to react to any suspected insurgency before firing. This went on for some time while, as we were told, the RAAFPOL dogs were in quarantine. Can’t recall the exact time this was over but I only ever did one patrol.

The Deception


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