Tactical and Technical
JTF 1110 Op Bushfire Assist Experiences | Operations OfficerBy Gabrielle Hendry February 17, 2020
I distinctly remember one of the late-night lectures we received as reservist Officer Cadets on Training Block 5 at the Royal Military College. This final training block is the culmination of the Officer Cadet Commissioning Course and our instructors had no hesitations in ensuring we were ready to become Officers.
The Course Manager looked us all in the eye and very seriously stated: “You could be deployed on an operation six months from now.” As we all chuckled nervously, I don’t think many people in the room took that comment too seriously. And yet here we are, six months commissioned and thrust into our first, real-life operation on Operation Bushfire Assist. For someone who is only just now on the Logistic Officers Basic Course (LOBC), daunting did not begin to cover how unprepared I felt at the start. Yet the community needed us.
Primarily, I was the Operations Officer (OPSO) for CSST 2, as part of JTF1110. We deployed to Mackay Park in Batemans Bay and ran a distribution centre for the community, supplying donated goods to fire-affected local communities while simultaneously going out on community tasks every day. Personally, it was particularly poignant to be operating in the community my parents had retired to a couple of years earlier.
It was a simple moment that taught me the impact of what our CSST was achieving on the ground. I was escorting a lovely lady around our distribution centre, assisting her with getting some much needed supplies for remote family members. She was quiet, which wasn’t unusual, but as we headed back to her car, her lower lip quivered and she suddenly hugged me. Crying, she told me how overwhelmed she was by the fires. She said she had never had to do anything like this before and that she was scared; but also of how grateful she was that we had deployed to her community, with smiles on our faces. She felt just a little bit safer with our presence and to me that represents the essence of Defence Aid to the Civil Community (DACC). I must have ‘that face’ because this happened to me at least ten separate times!
Those were the moments which kept everyone motivated, even when the situational environment was rapidly changing. It’s why many of us became reservists and it was a great honour to be able to get out there and assist. It was also an absolute privilege to watch the soldiers at work every day, using their skills to assist scores of people. Without them, the operation simply wouldn’t have happened.
Among many lessons learned, a couple stand out. The first key lesson learned was that when in doubt, refer to doctrine as your guide. So many things that occurred on operation suddenly make sense after learning it formally at LOBC. While the situation may change, the basic principles remain the same and will carry you through. The second lesson was to use your peer group network to your best advantage. The beauty of the call-out was having all the colleagues and mates who I had trained with previously in the one spot. That mateship and support made a world of difference late at night, when I was struggling to read through another TASKORD and preparing for another busy day.