ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE BASE TINDAL, Australia --
When Marines visit an area, they make it a goal to leave that area in better condition than when they arrived.
This mentality was put into action when Marines and sailors, participating in Exercise Southern Frontier, visited the Aboriginal community, Jilkminggan in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Jilkminggan is a community of about 250 indigenous Australians approximately 100 miles south of Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, where the servicemembers are involved in the exercise.
Twenty-four volunteers from Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 and Marine Aircraft Group 12 participated in the community relations effort.
Jilkminggan rests alongside a portion of the Roper River, an emerald green river, which provides opportunities for the locals to fish for barramundi, a popular local fish. The community consists of small houses, a community store and school.
Lt. Cmdr. Denise Wallingford, the chaplain for MAG-12, organized the visit with the help of Jilkminggan traditional owners Sheila Conway and Jessie Roberts.
“Last year, the Chaplain from MWSS-171 worked with the Jilkminggan community and he put me in contact with them for this year’s exercise,” said Wallingford. “We were introduced through email and began coordinating before I left Iwakuni.”
One reason the community may have been eager to welcome back the Marines is the positive image the Marines left the last time they visited. During last year’s visit, the Marines were able to help extinguish a house fire that, if not for the Marines, would have destroyed the house.
“The traditional owners granted more than twice the amount of Marines to visit this year compared to last year, which is incredible,” said Wallingford. “In fact, the next time we are bringing three more Marines because of the way they handled the horses this time. It’s going to be almost three times the amount of people that they were initially going to allow, which means they are becoming much more comfortable with us.”
The community invited three Marines back because of their hard work corralling 12 horses. The horses have roamed free since Elsey Station closed, which was the local cattle station, where some of the aboriginal people who live in Jilkminggan worked.
While corralling horses was not originally a part of the trip, the opportunity appeared when Marines passed a herd of horses outside the community. Some of the Marines volunteered their free time to help with corralling the horses after they finished the commitment of painting a school building and digging a trench for irrigation.
Lance Cpl. Matthew Amador, an aviation logistics information management specialist with VMFA(AW)-242, participated in the visit and made the most of his time by helping out with the special projects the marines completed.
“During the trip I was able to help paint the school building, dig part of the trenches for the irrigation lines, and I also got to help catch some of the horses that were roaming around,” said Amador. “I didn’t have much experience in painting, but it was fun. I really enjoyed it when the local children came up and helped us paint.”
The Marines completed most of the painting, but soon after they began, curious children approached the work site. The young children shared smiles and paintbrushes with the servicemembers before running off to play in the warm Australian afternoon.
As the day ended, the Marines received a special treat from the community. The Marines received a tour of the Jilkminggan’s land, which includes some of the Northern Territories most beautiful landscape.
“The most memorable part of the trip, for me, was when they took us out into what they termed ‘the jungle.’ They took us for a ride through their land and to the river, and there is something about that river. There is really no way to describe it, except to be there. It is just a peaceful, beautiful sight,” said Wallingford.
Wallingford said the visit with the Aboriginal community was a great opportunity for Marines to connect with some of the people that live in the area, and that they impact their world when they fly jets over their land.
“When we got there some of the people said one of the F/18s had flown by and dipped its wing; as kind of a way to say hello, and they were very excited about that,” said Wallingford. “That’s just proof that we are having an impact, and that is we want, an impact to be positive and positively remembered.”