MEET Brigadier General Francis Agwi. At age 54, he is Papua New Guinea's newest Commander of the Defence Force who now joins the annals of PNG's military history as this country's 9th head of the military.
Married with four children, Brig Gen Agwi hails from the middle-Sepik river village of Korogu, East Sepik province.
Soft spoken and of short stature, Agwi generates great patience, knowledge and understanding of his art. For any one encountering him for the first time, he gives one the obvious - he is courageous, confident and amass with a lot of stamina.
Reflecting on his career in the PNGDF since 1974, Agwi says the road to the top most rung of the military hierarchy has not been easy. In his words, "it has been daunting and painstaking, though slow in coming. Nevertheless, I have now the job that carries with it a challenge that is enormous".
"My challenge really is to rehabilitate and resuscitate a force that flat on its feet," says Agwi.
As the nations chief Defense and Security officer, the new commander inherits a defense and security detail and therefore a military environment that is appallingly falling apart having been brought virtually on its knees by oft confusing politico-military decisions and policy options trialed over the years in efforts to resuscitate and revive the Force.
These have led to the extent that PNGs premier security detail normally traditionally structured for warfare as characterized by its constitutional role and responsibility has sadly, been reduced of its military psyche.
Agwi is adamant that with the support of government this time around, a critical whole-of-government approach is required to guarantee people, resources and businesses operating in the country optimal protection and security.
He is fully cognizant of the fact that with an ever increasing population of six million plus people, the military-population ratio grossly uneven. It reads at one soldier providing cover for 3,000 people. According to him, this must change for the better if PNG is to cater for its growing population and opening up and doing big businesses with external stakeholders.
In the face of a military force that has virtually been allowed to erode and marginalized of its constitutional character and morality, it will now be left to Agwi's military acumen, the support by government and officers and the rank and file to salvage this national pride institution if PNG was to remain legitimate as a state providing insurance for its people and business.
"Yes, there are watersheds in our recent military history. But we now have the job of working together to raise the standard, to step up to the challenges that are reshaping our military environment. Adaptation is vital if we are to remain legitimate," says Agwi.
"Together with population growth, big business are here together with their own security infrastructure, private security companies both externally based and domestic are employing men and women guards and security providers in numbers greater that the total number of men and women in the PNGDF.
"Strategic resources such as oil has been flowing for the last 17 years or so, gas is being developed for export in a few years time. Nickel/Cobalt is being exported in tones.
"Human security issues such as global warming and sea-level rise is threatening us. Our tuna resources are similarly being threatened. Poaching of our fishery resources is on-going without detection and apprehension.
"Islam as a fundamentalist religion is permeating the Pacific whilst sit with awe witnessing the on-going guns-for-drug syndicates running amok.
"Some of the world's super powers are here doing business with us. We must deal with them through the reshaping of our military environment. Through a system of military diplomacy, PNG must be allowed to determine her own geo-strategic space within the region and in the world.
"PNG must now be in a position to decide how she intends to determine her own fate militarily if indeed there is seriousness in what we do," Brig. Gen Agwi says.
It seems, Agwi has the determination to inflict change. He needs now the whole of government and society's support to realize this change.
For those of us who'd want to know what makes this man of 'iron', someone that will deliver a Defence Force that we could be proud of, the following credential would certainly augur well in resting our anxieties and apprehensions.
The commander grew up and was educated at Maprik and Brandi High Schools both in the East Sepik province where he completed secondary education. Brig. Gen. Agwi was enlisted into the PNGDF in 1974, following high school and a year before PNG gained political independence from Australia. He was among a crop of young enthusiastic men drawn from throughout the country and conscripted to undergo six months of joint military, police and correctional services training at the then designated Joint Services Staff College (JSSC) at Igam Barracks, Lae, Morobe province.
Political thinking at that time was to have these men trained in all facets of military, policing and correctional services leadership and academic know-how from one institution so that these could become leaders and servicemen of their respective state security agencies that could take charge of both internal and security threats, including rehabilitation of law-breakers.
Agwi chose, following training at the JSSC, to traverse the path of becoming an officer of the PNG Defence Force.
As PNG was adjusting from severance of ties with Canberra, Agwi graduated as a military officer on 26th June, 1976, and posted as Platoon Commander at the First Battalion of the Royal Pacific Island Regiment 1st Battalion (1RPIR) in Taurama Barracks, outside of here where he performed all regimental duties and responsibilities.
In 1980, he was posted to the Goldie River Training Depot also outside of here as an Instructor and three years later in 1983, he became the first JSSC-educated officer to be posted as Senior Instructor at the Officer-cadet Training Wing in Lae's Igam Barracks. Many of the current army officers at Lieutenant Colonels and senior Majors rank, including former Deputy Prime Minister Mao Zeming came under his military tutelage and conditioning.
In 1985, following his success at Igam, Brig. Gen. Agwi was posted as Officer Commanding Delta Company at the Wewak-based Second Battalion of the RPIR (2RPIR) at Moem Barracks, East Sepik province where he also became the Operations Officer of the same unit.
Military headquarter posting as Staff Officer Grade two awaited him following his outstanding tour of duty on the Northern frontier. Murray Barracks made him SO2 within the Land Operations Directorate at the time PNG was experiencing upheavals on Bougainville as a result of secessionist threats where Agwi comprised a team that undertook the first reconnaissance prior to landing of troops on Bougainville.
In 1990, Brig. Gen. Agwi undertook a year of advance military studies at the Royal Australian Air Force Staff College, Canberra, Australia. On return in 1991, he was sent to Bougainville for operational duties on Bougainville. He was back at military headquarters in 1995 as Staff Officer Grade 2 assigned again with the Land Operation second time around.
He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and took up posting as Director Training at headquarters, later as Commending Officer/ Chief Instructor of the Goldie River Training Depot. He later returned to headquarters as Director of Military Intelligence.
In 2002, his immediate predecessor, Commodore Peter Ilau appointed him close aide prior to sending him to attend a one year Defence Strategic Studies (CDSS) at the Western Creek staff college in Canberra, Australia. Following successful completion of the course, Agwi was promoted to Colonel and took up the job of Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI), the job he held until his current appointment as commander of the PNGDF.
Brig. Gen Agwi is without doubt, a decorated military officer of high caliber, having throughout his outstanding and meritorious career spanning 37 years, schooled himself through many short courses and seminars on military art, management and strategic studies in some of the world's best military schools in the United States, China, Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
'My hope rested on the virtues of humility, patience and perseverance because I knew that these do pay off in the end if one is game to follow that path. 'These virtues have proven right for me now following years of loyal and dedicated service to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force,' Brig. Gen. Agwi says. He added that it had even been harder amidst a competitive environment when, rightly so, even eager younger and intelligent officer men were determined to grab the top job and to stamp their own mark in making a difference in the way military operates in this country.
One or two of his men who had one time or another been subjected to his command had themselves become Commanders, he said. These are now factual episodes in my life but now I have this opportunity to demonstrate to the Government and the people of Papua New Guinea that I can do it too. Most importantly, it is my humblest of duty and service to return their confidence through my appointment by way of administering and realigning the army that in its functions and responsibilities that would guarantee and offset threat scenarios both internal and external that poses insecurity both of the government, the people and the rich endowment of PNG's natural resources.
Prior to his appointment, Agwi was the team leader in producing the much talked about International Obligation Bill now before Parliament aimed at placement of PNG soldiers in United Nations Peace Keeping duties in trouble spots around the world.
Brig. Gen. Agwi is dead set to ensure the country's Constitutional and premier security detail is given pride of place in the statecraft of the independent state as it seeks out its constitutional roles and responsibilities in the face of changes within the region and sub-regional security environments, including realignment with the PNG vision 2050 through the Forces own 2030 vision.
The challenge is enormous, the task mammoth, Agwi says. 'I believe I have the will to do it, the stamina to pursue strategic objectives and the support of the government who appointed me to bring the house to order'.
He reminices the good military administration system established by the Australians and one that PNG inherited at Independence. 'It was a system based on the strategic warfare concepts of 'command', 'leadership', and 'control' - CLM. These are the basic tenet of military administration or any administration that are structured for war. "It seems that in PNGDF, we have over the years far deviated from strictly adhering to these basic concepts of soldier administration within the officer corp. As a result we have lost or lacked CLM of the rank and file.