Captain Charlie Mansfield, Lance Corporal Ken Leahy and Sapper John Wainwright help remove debris from the Balonne River bridge in St George, Queensland.
Originally published in Army News.
Led by the 7th Brigade, the ESF comprised 90 soldiers from Delta Company (D Coy), 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR) and 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment (2 CER) and 30th Fleet Support Unit (30 FSU) sailors from Sydney’s Fleet Base East.
At the request of the Queensland Government, through Emergency Management Australia, the ESF was called on to provide vital flood relief and support to the inundated communities of Roma, Mitchell and St George on February 8.
Joint Operations Commander Lieutenant General Ash Power said he was proud of the force’s tireless efforts.
“Soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen are always prepared to get their hands dirty and help those Australians having a rough time. What makes me most proud though is that they always do their jobs with a smile on their faces,” Lieutenant General Power said.
On arrival in Roma and Mitchell the force immediately began clearing mud out of houses and removing damaged items, rubbish and debris. Two days later 30 FSU sailors joined the force and formed part of the element that moved from Roma to assist in St George.
On February 12 the remaining personnel in Roma and Mitchell shifted to join the main recovery effort in St George before completing works and returning to their home units.
Soldiers from 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment unload supplies in the town of St George Queensland.
The Officer Commanding of the ESF, Major Paul Mackenzie, said the assistance provided by ADF personnel was “exceptional and without fault”.
“Lots of tears flowed as locals shared their stories with us. Our hearts went out to these poor people whose whole lives had been damaged by water – for many it was the third flood in two years,” Major Mackenzie said.
“The level of support the force provided had a huge impact on boosting community morale and the residents’ psychological state. They were so grateful to us for our willingness to drop everything and give them our all. I think we made them feel looked after and that they would get through it all in the end.
“I’m sure memories of this experience will linger with the personnel who were involved for a long time.”
He said the force’s greatest achievement was assisting the residents of St George in recovering the Warrawee Retirement Village.
“The nursing home residents weren’t capable of cleaning it up themselves. The force focused its efforts on the facility for an entire day until it was all cleaned out. Without our assistance it would’ve taken them about two or three months to restore.”
Rifleman Private Benjamin Vitnell, D Coy, 6 RAR, said it was his first time providing flood relief and he was glad to help his fellow Australians during their time of need.
“This was one of the first tasks D Coy had done together this year and it was good to do something real even though it wasn’t what we would normally do in our jobs – we didn’t mind at all, we just got in there and cracked on with it,” Private Vitnell said.
“I enjoyed working with the sailors at the retirement village. It was our first time working with Navy personnel and good to see that they weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
“Once we got back to Brisbane it was straight back to work. For the time being we’re continuing to maintain the force and prepping just in case we need to go back.”