By Navy Lieutenant Sarah West
Junior Legatees pushed themselves to their limits on the Kokoda Trail earlier this month – with a little help from ADF mentors.
Eight days after stepping off from the village of Kokoda, a group of Junior Legatees and their ADF mentors crossed the finish line at Owers’ Corner, exhausted, having trekked 96km through the mountainous jungle regions of the Papua New Guinea highlands.
The trek along the iconic Kokoda Trail was part of the Legacy Australia initiative ‘Legacy Australia Kokoda Challenge’, which paired serving members with young Australians from Defence families from their region who had lost a parent.
The serving member mentored the Junior Legatee to help prepare them mentally and physically and then trekked the trail with them. Since March, the 23 Legatees and their 17 Army, Navy and Air Force mentors have trained together on mountains around Australia.
At the end of August, they concentrated in Brisbane and travelled to Papua New Guinea, where on September 9 — as a team — they conquered Kokoda.
Sgt Jonathan Cooper, of 2/14 LHR, said teamwork got the group through the gruelling trek, and it was especially heart-warming to see how much the Junior Legatees grew from the experience.
“Teamwork is everything on Kokoda,” Sgt Cooper said.
“If you can’t put your hand out to help someone else, then you are not part of the team and you are there for yourself which is the wrong thing.
“You need to be able to help everyone, get them up the hill and give them that bit of encouragement when they are feeling down, tired and wet.
“It lifts you up, lifts them up and that’s what it’s all about.
“I watched one of the Junior Legatees on day one really worried about the hills and thinking ‘I’m not going to be able to do this’, and after day four she was thinking ‘this is easy, I’ve got this’.
“It was great to see them overcome negative thoughts.”
Junior Legatee Emmelyne Jackson said the local porters and guides were invaluable on the trek.
“They looked after us and made sure that we were okay,” Emmelyne said.
“If we were struggling they understood and stopped to make sure we were alright, to make sure we got to the other end.”
Junior Legatee Danielle Smith said it was really meaningful to do Kokoda with the ADF mentors.
“The Junior Legatees got along with them so well, we kind of have that connection with the forces, so it was good to have them watching over us — just like our fathers would have done if they were here,” Danielle said.
Defence Contingent Commander Maj Phil Whitehead said it meant a lot to the group of ADF members to support the Legacy youth on their Kokoda journey.
“Every one of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and women and officers involved in the Legacy Kokoda Challenge feel incredibly privileged to have accompanied these special young people on such an important and reflective journey through one of the most iconic battlefields in Australian military history,” Maj Whitehead said.
“Equally, we feel proud of the achievement of the group and the teamwork they demonstrated to complete the gruelling trek, which is a significant milestone in all of our lives.
“Most importantly, the time we spent with the Legacy Youth was meaningful and we acknowledge the important work of Legacy in helping the families of fallen Defence members thrive despite adversity.”
The Legacy Kokoda Challenge coincided with Legacy Week in Australia, which highlights the important work Legacy does to support Defence families following the death of a spouse or a parent, during or after their ADF service.
Legacy Australia Chairman Tony Ralph said it was significant that the Junior Legatees were able to complete the challenging and emotional journey with their ADF mentors.
“Veterans mentoring Legacy youth reflects the true spirit of Legacy,” Mr Ralph said.
“By bringing these young adults and serving veterans together during Legacy Week we are fostering the qualities of leadership, resilience, courage, initiative, respect and teamwork.
“Whether on deployment, peacekeeping, peace enforcing or disaster relief, the bottom line is when a member of the ADF goes to work, there is always a real risk they may not return.
“And if they do, it may not be in the same state as when they left.
“Our ADF mentors have witnessed what Legacy is prepared to do if the worst were to happen during their ADF service.”
In the year marking the 75th anniversary of the WWII Kokoda campaign, the Junior Legatees and their ADF mentors, with the support of local porters and guides, overcame the mud, sweat and tears of the Kokoda trail.
They honoured the legacy of the soldiers who had walked before them, by demonstrating mateship, resilience, leadership and teamwork.
And, in doing so, created their own legacy.