In early 2022, four years after being appointed to the Royal Australian Air Force as an airfield engineer, Lieutenant Nadia Al Lahham (then a flight lieutenant), received a phone call that became a defining moment in her ADF career.
CAPTION: Australian Army engineering officer Lieutenant Nadia Al Lahham at 6th Engineer Support Regiment, RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland. Story by Captain Evita Ryan. Photo by Warrant Officer Class 2 Kim Allen.
At the time, Lieutenant Al Lahham was posted to RAAF Base Townsville in north Queensland as the second-in-command at 65 Squadron.
Meanwhile, in southern Queensland, severe rainfall and flooding led to the State facing one of the biggest recovery operations in its history.
Army’s Major General Jake Ellwood (retd) was appointed as Queensland’s State Recovery Coordinator to work with communities affected by disaster events and provide strategic advice to government agencies.
“A representative from Director General Personnel – Air Force called to tell me that a two-star required an aide-de-camp to assist him in his new role as the State Recovery Coordinator,” Lieutenant Al Lahham said.
“I suddenly had to be much more organised than I had ever been in my life, but the role made me see Defence from a different perspective, and made me appreciate the ADF even more.”
Admitting that it was a chaotic time in her career, Lieutenant Al Lahham pressed pause on her social life as she travelled to dozens of communities and local government areas that were impacted by the devastating flood events.
While adapting to last-minute changes to their schedule and dealing with unexpected challenges that would inevitably arise on a day-to-day basis, Lieutenant Al Lahham considered asking Major General Ellwood if she should submit an application to transfer to the Army.
“We were sitting in the car driving to one of the flood-affected communities when I mentioned to Major General Ellwood that I was thinking of transferring to Army,” Lieutenant Al Lahham said.
“By that stage I had been chewing on the idea for a few days.
“Major General Ellwood was very encouraging and mentioned all the opportunities for civil engineers in the Army, including the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program and work in the Pacific.”
This wasn’t the first time Lieutenant Al Lahham had considered joining the Army as a civil engineer.
While growing up in north Melbourne, Tasmanian-born Lieutenant Al Lahham enjoyed building structures with Lego blocks and scribbling on paper as she pretended to solve complicated mathematical equations.
“I always felt like I would do something related to science or engineering,” Lieutenant Al Lahham said.
“I felt like my brain was wired that way and when I looked into civil engineering it resonated with me because we get involved in areas which can have a significant impact on human life, like water and buildings.
“Plus a lot of the work is outdoors and I didn’t want to get stuck in an office.”
After completing a Bachelor of Environments and a Masters of Civil Engineering at University of Melbourne, Lieutenant Al Lahham applied to join the Army as a civil engineer, but her parents convinced her to become an Air Force Airfield Engineer instead.
Four years later, with experience in airfield maintenance and airfield infrastructure projects under her belt, Lieutenant Al Lahham felt as if she was waiting for someone to tell her that it wasn’t too late to follow her passion and that transferring from Air Force to the Army was achievable.
With the support of Major General Ellwood and an Air Force Chaplain, who Lieutenant Al Lahham saw as an unofficial mentor, she submitted her application to transfer to the Army in mid-2022 and posted to 6th Engineer Support Regiment (6ESR) as a Project Engineer in April 2023.
“In Air Force, everyone around me was into aircraft and I wasn’t,” she said.
“I’ve only been with 6ESR for two months but I’m already enjoying the Army so much more.
“I like the culture, the team environment and the camaraderie.
“I’m enjoying PT, all the networking and the social setting, but I’m really looking forward to future engineering taskings, whether they be at home for AACAP or in support of our Pacific family.”