I’m Terry Meissner and I have been an Army Reservist for 9 years, currently serving as a driver within the 9th Brigade Combat Services Support Battalion.
On 4 January 2020, the Minister of Defence, with the endorsement from the Governor General, announced a compulsory Australian Defence Force (ADF) call out to assist as an emergency response to bushfire affected areas across our country: Operation Bushfire Assist. This was the first time a mandatory call out of this nature had been issued in our country’s history.
Two days later I received the order from my Troop Commander to report to Keswick Barracks, ready for deployment to Kangaroo Island. I then notified my manager at the Bank, advising I would not be in for a while. Unfortunately, my kids were still asleep, so I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
That same day approximately 110 of us set off for Kangaroo Island, not knowing what the next 28 days would entail.
Landing on KI was unknown territory for us. We did not know what to expect or what was expected of us. Our initial task was to essentially gather requirements and prioritise – the synergies between this and my day job were apparent.
From here we were tasked to assist many areas including (but not limited to):
- Construction of a temporary desalination plant
- Removal of dead wildlife
- Assisting with the treatment of injured wildlife
- Damaged fence removal
- Debris removal
- Water and fuel supply
- Pickup and delivery of food for livestock
- Assist donation centres
- Assist with the maintenance of emergency vehicles
Across this time, over 300 ADF personnel (including the full-time Army) were deployed to the island.
Personally, I was also fortunate to perform additional tasks, such as driving the Brigadier of 9 Brigade around the island with the Governor General to witness the affected areas, as well as driving VIP’s within the Prime Minister’s convoy during his visit to the island.
Seeing the devastation caused by the fires is not something you get used to. The damage to property, vegetation and wildlife was overwhelming at times. I was only a few hours away from home but it felt a world away.
One of the more intense experience was when we were forced to evacuate from our location as fires approached rapidly from the west. Dense smoke, raining ash and a bright red glow in the distance forced our withdrawal into the Kingscote Airport terminal where we sought refuge until the morning.
The next day everything that was green the day before was now gone. This was something I struggled to rationalise.
One of our directives was to be as self-sufficient and leave as little a footprint as possible.
This meant we had to supply our own food, water, fuel and other resources. Supply runs from Adelaide to the Island were constant. This also meant ration packs and sleeping under the stars for the better part of the stay.
Above all, the good old Aussie spirit is what really pulled at my heart strings. I spoke to so many locals who had lost everything and they were so grateful for everyone’s support. It meant so much to them to shake their hand and be asked ‘what can we do to help?’
When we arrived there was a sense of relief from the existing volunteers from our presence.
We were first postured at the ‘Staging Area’, approximately 300m west of the airport, which we shared with the rest of the emergency services and the Salvo’s.
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted at the gate by a firefighter. He was evidently very fatigued, as he had been there a while. The first thing he said to us was “Thank God you guys are here”. We were already energised and eager to get to work, but that welcome boosted us even more. This set the scene and reinforced that we were definitely there to make a difference.
I was so proud to see all of the support provided by everyone on the island and from the mainland.
I would also like acknowledge Squad Lead Matt Hargreaves, who arranged a care package collection of goodies from our staff at the Bank that I could send across to KI and to Woodside where other support was being provided. Thank you.
What we managed to accomplish in such a short period of time was incredible and the experience will be with me forever. Putting my country first is one of the main drivers for joining the Army Reserves, and I am honoured that I was able to give back to those who need it most.
There are always impacts to my family and, by extension, to work, when I am away for army duties. That being said, my family and the Bank’s support enables me to help others and this operation is testament to that. My immediate management and colleagues were very supportive.
The mandatory call out period was for 28 days. The efforts are still ongoing but on a voluntary basis at present. I continue to help out on the weekends.
Over the 28 days I had three days off and we were working 15+ hour days on average.
I was fortunate enough to be sent home for my son’s ninth birthday, which was a nice surprise for him and a boost for me too.
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