Tactical and Technical

JTF 646.7 Operation Bushfire Assist | Observations from a JNCO

By Sam Philpott March 18, 2020

At just after midnight on the second of January 2020, our team arrived in Bairnsdale Victoria. We had driven straight from Simpson Barracks as a result of deploying on request, without notice, on receipt of a text message. Our team comprised of two Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles (PMV’s) that provided a lift capability to the combined bushfire effort JTF 646.2 for the next six days.

We were accommodated at the old cadet hall after a rendezvous with our point of contact from 22 Engineer Regiment. We had to be resourceful in promoting ourselves and assimilating into a disaggregated command amongst a chaotic environment in the Incident Command Centre.

The PMV call-sign ended up being attached to the logistics element responsible for liaison between police, fire and th Army; from here we could maximize our ability to provide capability where it was most needed.

We assisted the Metropolitan Fire Brigade by providing protected lift and a 4x4 recovery capability into fire ravaged areas between Buchan and Wulgulmerang so that they could complete impact assessment tasks; this included navigating to pre-determined grid references to determine the extent of fire damage to particular properties and infrastructure. Trooper (TPR) Maunder showed initiative and resourcefulness in purchasing maps from a local ARB store in Bairnsdale which assisted significantly in achieving our mission. Further tasking included the lifting of police arson squad and drone operators to properties of deceased residents for the coroners. Additional tasks included disembarking displaced personal from Black Hawks and Chinooks and back loading the helicopters with supplies to be provided to cut off communities.

We staged ourselves in Lakes Entrance to provide relief and man-power to the civilian emergency relief centre at the local library.  

All members held themselves to a high standard of professionalism, displaying initiative and teamwork. Despite being one of the newest members of the Regiment, TPR Vella showed great initiative, with a genuine interest in familiarising herself in all aspects of PMV so that she could be a valuable operator and assist members of other government agencies when in working with the vehicles. TPR Rough’s experience as an ex full-time cavalryman and senior soldier was invaluable as the driver of the lead PMV. TPR Beraldo’s experience as a police officer gave the section a significant advantage in liaison with police elements and significantly improved our ability to gel and establish relationships with the blue force.

In all, the ability to support the community in this way was the high point of my career to date. While I hope a disaster like this never occurs again, I will definitely volunteer to do this same task again should it arise in the future.



Sam Philpott

Sam Philpott is a JNCO serving at 4th/19th Prince of Wales's Light Horse Regiment.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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