Army Reserve infantry soldiers are busy across south-east NSW, armed with new chainsaw training and skills from the School of Military Engineering.
CAPTION: Private Jake Jubelin, an Army Reserve infantryman from the 2nd/17th Battalion, Royal NSW Regiment, chainsaws a fallen tree to restore access to a burn-out property. The owner’s home (background) was destroyed by bushfire, with the elderly couple forced to share a tent until access for a new caravan was restored by the Army. Photo and story by Major Cameron Jamieson.
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The fit and nimble soldiers had their skillsets enhanced with a one-day chainsaw course held at the school in Holsworthy that qualified them in crosscut operations before departing for the coast.
This training has allowed them to cut up fallen timber so their teams can haul away the debris from roads, tracks, fences and properties.
Lieutenant Aiden Frost, 2nd/17th Battalion, Royal NSW Regiment, and now the team leader for the 5th Engineer Regiment Task Group’s Strike Team 3, Response Team Alpha, said the bushfire crisis instantly focused the minds of all soldiers in the field.
“What I’ve noticed is that the traditional rivalries between units may still exist for the purposes of humour and rivalry, but the truth is that everybody here is a soldier first,” Lieutenant Frost said.
“In the absence of normal coordination, it’s been amazing to see people across the corps work together to make things happen and help the people affected by this tragedy.”
The dedication of the soldiers also gives a sense of hope to homeowners who have lost everything.
Verona residents Jim and Enid Humphries lost their home to the fires north of Bega were living in a tent for a while, but now have a caravan to live in.
A new access track to their property was needed to circumvent the destroyed house but the path was blocked by burnt-out trees.
That changed when Strike Team 3 arrived, allowing a caravan to be hauled onto the property so the Humphries’ could abandon their tent for a little more comfort.
Mr Humphries said the presence of the soldiers was an unexpected godsend.
“Without them I’d have to be into this with a chainsaw myself – and that wouldn’t be pretty,” the 75-year old said.
“Before the fire, this was quite a pleasant area, but the fire erupted in just a matter of seconds. Now it’s hell on earth.”
Mr Humphries said he and his wife now had to consider their options for the future – as did so many of his devastated neighbours.
“We are just one of the many. There’s a hell of lot in the same boat – a hell of a lot.”