Locals in the frontline for nation
DOZENS of Northern Rivers residents are among thousands of Australian Defence Force personnel on the frontlines of war zones and peacekeeping duties around the world.
As the small town of Woodenbong grieves the death of the fiancée of local woman Kezia Mulcahy – Sapper Jacob Moerland, who was killed in action last week in Afghanistan – Lismore RSL Sub-branch secretary Wilson McClelland said it was a timely reminder that Northern Rivers residents continued to participate in active service.
Australia is heavily involved in the war on terror, and our defence forces are in harm's way.
According to the Department of Defence, 3300 personnel are on overseas deployment in 12 operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Thirteen of our soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001.
“Sometimes that can be forgotten and it's not until something like this (the death of Sapper Moerland) happens that it gets publicity,” Mr McClelland said.
“Of course the immediate family and friends (of servicemen and women) know, but we have many local serving on navy ships or with the army battalions stationed in many theatres.
“I know of many locals who are on their second or third deployments.”
The Department of Defence could not put an exact number on Northern Rivers residents serving in the defence force.
However, examples of locals involved in overseas deployments include Lismore's Michael Ross and Mitch Benbow and Kyogle's Daniel Boyd.
Able Seaman Lance Boyd, a specialist electronics technician, is serving with 180 shipmates on HMAS Parramatta on patrol duties in the Persian Gulf in his first deployment in foreign waters.
“My role onboard involves the maintenance and daily running of the ship's combat system – providing the combat system operators and the ship's command team with reliable systems,” he said.
“We also maintain the ship's weapon systems. It was a hard slog training for this run and ensuring the equipment we maintain was in good condition, but it was all preparation for the job we are doing now.
“It's good to see the hard work and effort is being rewarded. The job we are doing here as a team is making a difference, making the region safer.”
Meanwhile, Signalman Michael Ross and Army Craftsman Mitch Benbow, both former Richmond River High School students in Lismore, are also on their first overseas deployment in East Timor as part of the 550-member stabilisation force in the country at the invitation of the Timor-Leste Government.
Signalman Ross is a telecommunications expert. “My job over here is to manage the communications infrastructure, such as the phone system, cabling and the satellite dish,” he said.
“I'm also experiencing a new culture and appreciating the things I take for granted back in Australia.”
Army Craftsman Benbow is a technician responsible for the day-to-day servicing and repair of army aircraft, including Black Hawk helicopters. “It's satisfying to know that with all our work the aircraft will be ready to go when needed,” he said.
While many are already overseas on deployment, more Northern Rivers residents continue to join the defence forces, like new army recruit Nick Hayden.
The 18-year-old is completing his basic training at Kapooka, near Wagga Wagga, and hopes to eventually join the Army Engineers. “I've got the hang of the 6am starts now – you get used to being woken up by yelling voices,” he said.