in 1999, I was contracted to install security equipment for a large American gas supplier in Aceh Province, Indonesia. Apparently, the GAM guerrillas, fighting to establish an Islamic state, were terrorizing the base camp.

A company of Indonesian marines provided armed security but the military simply attracted attacks. Two weeks before I arrived with my team, the guerrillas had shot dead four Indonesian soldiers near the perimeter fence. Tensions were high between the local Acehnese and the Indonesian military.

The Americans picked up my team and me in a private aircraft and we landed at a forward airfield. From there, we took off in two helicopters to the base camp. Instead of lifting off and nosing forward, the helicopters spiraled vertically, reached 10,000 feet before heading forth.

‘To avoid rifle fire from the trees,’ called out the pilot. Great! Thank you for telling us after we boarded!

Mike, the Security Manager, whom I knew from years earlier, briefed us. He went over the routine:

‘Sleep fully clothed with passport and wallets strapped around your waist. Socks on and shoes next to your bunks. The two helicopters will be manned 24 hours a day and ready to take off within seconds. If the GAM breaches security, the perimeter triggers will go off…dash for the helicopters…the crews will not wait for stragglers.’

My team and I were scheduled to spend 23 days in fun country.

Mike then took me on a tour of the perimeter fence and the spot where the four soldiers were killed. We looked down from a steep cliff. Through the thick cauliflower canopy of green, thin smoke tendrils curled lazily into the blue sky.

“Villages,” said Mike. He pointed out salient features of the landscape and all the while kept glancing at his watch. Then he said abruptly,

“Times up, let’s scoot!”

I skidded down the slope after him, wondering what the rush was.

“Two minutes, that’s all it takes for their lookouts to alert the guerillas.”

“Two minutes?” I panted after him, my hand reaching for my side arm in a futile gesture.

“Yes!” Mike replied as he pulled up at the bottom of the slope and I almost ran into him.

“Then the turkey shoot starts as anyone on that cliff made an inviting target. The four Indonesians who got killed, they took a smoke break, two and a half minutes.”

********** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2012 **********


  1. Wow, what a experience. Reminds me of the phrase. “You don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than your buddy.”

    1. That’s a good one and I’ve heard it said – ‘…just faster than your buddy.” LOL!

      I wonder what brought you so far back into my archives, but glad that it was not a wasted visit, Rob.

      I also like what you said about being a step higher than a monkey – well, from a grease monkey, I say – you flatter yourself 🙂 and you thought, I didn’t catch on to that one 🙂

      Cheers Rob, all in good fun,

    2. Just checking out all the rooms of your house. I don’t do wasted visits, I learn something from everyone.

      I expected you to catch the monkey comment. You are a smart guy and you know all the stories.

      It is all good.


    1. Yes, you are so right – killing is always mindless.

      We used to lie in bed and some nights, listen to the ‘pops’ of guns going off in the distant darkness. Strange but we were not afraid – but more angry at not getting some decent sleep.

  2. Wonderful share, Eric. Reminded me of my sojourn several years ago in Naxalite-heavy regions in India. Your wit and your hair, often together, stood at their stiff ends, as one meandered through landscapes that exuded illusory calm.

  3. Usually after you escape unscath, then your legs become soft. To think that you have survived the place for 23 days without a “scratch” is a miracle. That was once in a lifetime experience. Thank the good Lord.

    1. Pak Subhan – you probably know the genesis of this conflict better. I only know what I read and heard from my Indonesian friends. My only concern was to do the job and pull my team out to safety. They did pay us very well…

  4. I find it so difficult to understand why it is that people who go to extremes in any form of religion resort to force in order establish themselves as the sole arbitrator of conscience. What a misunderstanding they have of the God I know.

    1. You are so very right Ian, and all in the name of “god”.

      I suppose this is what happens when the fringe takes the centre and the majority abdicates their responsibilty and cower. Unfortunately, we see this in all denominations but some more obvious than in others.

  5. Wonderfully powerful story to tell us the downside of tarrying in the wrong places! Eric, you certainly have a lot to share with us. I am so grateful you are cheerfully willing to do so!

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