Almost 500 soldiers from the Australian Army’s 1st Brigade have been deployed to Operation Bushfire Assist in support of bushfire affected communities.
The Darwin and Adelaide-based soldiers have flown to areas across south-eastern Australia to support local authorities, volunteer agencies and the 6,500 Defence personnel contributing to the effort.
Commander of the 1st Brigade, Brigadier Ash Collingburn said that that there was no shortage of willing bodies within the Brigade when the call-out was announced.
“As Army’s high readiness combat brigade, we maintain personnel over the Christmas leave period on high readiness to assist in the event of short-notice emergencies,” Brigadier Collingburn said.
“While we had people on standby ready to go when the call came, I had soldiers asking to be recalled from leave so that they could join the effort.
“Like all Australians, our people have been watching the crisis unfold as it has been reported in the media and they have been shocked and deeply moved by the devastation caused.”
Brigadier Collingburn said that three separate Joint Task Forces have been established to coordinate the operation in South Australia and Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria.
1st Brigade soldiers and officers have been integrated into each of the Joint Task Forces and are working alongside state fire authorities and other agencies, such as Australian Aid and the Red Cross.
The 1st Brigade contingent includes infantry soldiers, medical technicians, logistics specialists and engineers who provided immediate response, while additional reserve forces continue to mobilise as authorised by the Governor-General.
Infantryman Private Joshua Coleman from Adelaide’s 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (7 RAR) witnessed the devastation to the bushland firsthand from the window of a Singaporean Chinook helicopter.
“We flew out to Combienbar and as I looked out the window it was an eerie juxtaposition between the very green lively coast and black dead forests,” Private Coleman said.
Despite the visual devastation, another 7 RAR soldier, Corporal Todd Madden said that he was impressed by Australia’s ever-present fighting spirit.
“There was a willingness from local residents to not only continue to persevere in the face of adversity, but an insistence to help those who were worse off,” Corporal Todd Madden said.
While the majority of the soldiers have been working to deliver essential supplies to townships and aid in recovery efforts, others are assisting with caring for and rehabilitating native animals whose habitat has been affected.
Along with kangaroos and koalas, around 800 beehives have been destroyed by fire on Kangaroo Island.
Trooper Daniel Byford who is on the Island with the 1st Armoured Regiment, unexpectedly called upon his previous beekeeping skills to help save the local Ligurian Bee.
Sappers from the Top End’s 1st Combat Engineer Regiment are using their more traditional skills and equipment to clear roads of fallen trees to reopen routes, including the first emergency access road in and out of the coastal town of Mallacoota, Victoria.
The Australian Defence Force has supported the bushfire effort in various parts of the nation since September 2019, working alongside emergency management agencies, local residents and foreign militaries.
Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have all generously united to support the recovery efforts.