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Iron will of a warrior

Hamish Ross
Monday, April 01, 2013

As condolences flow in from around the world for SAS legend Fred Marafono, London-based HAMISH ROSS, who co-authored the book — From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars — with the Rotuma-born soldier, salutes a friend and an inspiration in his obituary sent to the The Fiji Times.

A DISTINGUISHED son of Fiji and one of its unsung heroes, Kauata "Fred" Marafono died on 27 March 2013 aged 72.

He was a legend in the SAS, and was one of the first Fijians to pass its rigorous selection. He had the distinction of being selected for the best twice over: on the point of leaving the SAS after twenty-two years service, he was recruited by David Stirling, the Regiment's founder, to work for him in his security company KAS.

Fred Marafono achieved enduring fame for the part he played fighting with government forces to restore democracy in Sierra Leone's vicious Blood Diamond Wars.

Simon Mann recruited him for Executive Outcomes, the most successful private military that operated in Africa; he progressed from ground force commander to gunner in a helicopter gunship. And astonishingly, only three months short of his seventh decade of life, he was in action supporting the SAS in their daring raid Operation Barras.

He was born on Rotuma on 13 December, 1940. His father had served in the British Army in Burma during the Second World War.

Fred's early ambition was to study veterinary science, first at Navuso Agricultural School, and then on to college in Australia. But when the British army arrived with a recruiting drive on the island, without telling his parents, he signed up.

His career in the SAS is subject to the non-disclosure agreement, which he signed, and which, in his retirement, he firmly adhered to. But he was appointed MBE for one operation.

In his final months in the SAS, along with Ian Crooke, Second in Command at the time, he was the first of the former members of the unit to be recruited by David Stirling.

Fred told of that first meeting. David was saying, "Recruiting will be selective and Ian told me that you can do the job. I was very honoured and lost for words, and only managed to say, 'Thank you.'"

He worked in several countries with the company. Then, after Stirling's death, Fred moved on and did security work with the mining industry in Guyana.

This led to his being recruited by Golden Star Resources, who were expanding their operations across Africa. He arrived in Sierra Leone at the point when the government of the day, a military junta of young officers, was ineffectively trying to stop the advance of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel grouping that had no political ideology other than banditry.

In the ascendancy, they were moving out of the mineral-bearing areas of the country, intent on taking complete control, and were only miles from Freetown. Mining companies pulled their staff out, as chaos reigned.

Fred was asked to remain in the country and monitor the situation and report back. In the short time he had been there he formed a bond with Regent Chief Sam Hinga Norman, who had formerly served as an officer in the British army.

In a single-man operation, Fred extricated him through rebel-held territory from the town of Bo, 150 miles from Freetown.

As the situation deteriorated, in desperation, the junta contracted the South African multi-racial military company, Executive Outcomes, highly experienced combat veterans with years of counter-insurgency operations in southern Africa. They were contracted to deploy between one hundred and two hundred men, and defeat the rebels.

Fred joined them, becoming a ground force commander, leading and training elements of the Sierra Leone army. Within months Executive Outcomes cleared the capital and the diamond-bearing areas were back in government hands; elections took place; a democratic government took office once again in the country. But when EO's contract was terminated, fighting broke out again.

A regional military force, ECOMOG, led by Nigeria landed at Lungi airport, and secured it, but were unable to move out. They lacked logistical support to wage operations. Fred joined two other former members of Executive Outcomes, and operating as gunner and loadmaster, crewed the only helicopter that provided a vital air bridge between Liberia and the regional military group.

For months three men in a helicopter were the only means of supply for materials and manpower, flying low, taking different routes because the rebels had SAM missiles. Their efforts enabled ECOMOG to move out of Lungi and retake Freetown. Fighting continued until Britain took a leading role.

The end for rebel activities came with Operation Barras, when the SAS and the Parachute Regiment stormed the base of the West Side Boys; and Fred Marafono, three months short of his sixtieth birthday, was in action in a gunship supporting them overhead.

In his last years he co-authored a book about those years in Sierra Leone, entitled From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars; and for a short time after its publication, he was back on private security work as a consultant in Central America.

Fred Marafono was a man of integrity and of great inner resources. He gave of his best, and always for a good cause.

And his best was superlative.

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