Army gets down and dirty at desert race

The red dust from the desert is caked thick around the mouths and throats of riders, who are exhausted, banged up and bruised.

CAPTION: Australian Army soldiers attend the 2023 Finke Desert Race in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Story by Major Dan Mazurek.

A dirt bike, painstakingly tweaked and tuned just 48 hours before, barely crosses the Finke Desert Race finish line with a borrowed rim and tyre.

Held each year in June, Finke is an off-road, multi-terrain two-day race for bikes, cars and  buggies through the harsh desert between Alice Springs and the small community of Aputula, also known as Finke. It has the reputation of being one of the most difficult off-road courses in one of the most remote places in the world.

Four members from Army and three from RAAF tackled the gruelling 458km two-day race this year, when, for the first time, a full support team from the 1st Brigade accompanied them.

Sergeant Kyle Johnston is an ammunition technician from 1 Combat Services Support Battalion and also the Australia Motocross and Enduro Associate (AMXEA) NT representative.

Racing Finke for the first time this year on a Husqvarna TE300, he said there were parallels between the extreme sport and hard soldiering.

“The mix between Army and motocross is a good thing. Motorcycles have been used in war since their inception. This is a hard sport that takes a lot of endurance, strength, courage, resilience; it’s a good mix,” he said.

“This is an event you can’t do by yourself, it requires teamwork. You need people 226km down the other end, you need people here, people halfway to help fix your motorcycle, everything from food to mechanics through to, unfortunately sometimes, medical assets.”

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CAPTION: An Australian Army vehicle tows a bike involved in the 2023 Finke Desert Race in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

Since 2019, both motocross and enduro have been recognised as official army CAT C sports. To support its members undertaking the brutal desert race, 1st Brigade amassed a support team, including mechanics, a cook, a medic and drivers.

Event Officer in Charge Warrant Officer Class Two Daniel Barclay, of the 5th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment said the experience showcased the diversity and uniqueness of experiences in the Top End.

“This has been a great experience for 1st Brigade members – it definitely keeps the fun up North – I’m loving it,” he said.

“We’ve had a perfect storm of chain-of-command support, our members have enjoyed outstanding training opportunities, the team has worked very hard to get these riders here, the support we’ve had is amazing.”

The team of 19 left Darwin on June 4 in a convoy of G-Wagons, trailers and 40M trucks and made their way to Alice over two days before returning on the 15th.

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CAPTION: Australian Army 1st Brigade soldiers and Royal Australian Air Force personnel compete in the 2023 Finke Desert Race in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

The race provided unique and challenging training opportunities for the entire 1st Brigade support element.

Team medic Corporal Tim Forsythe, of 1 Health Battalion, was a very busy man with the issues arising from almost 600 motocross riders and the challenging terrain.

“I did a lot of primary healthcare, some major trauma, dealt with musculoskeletal injuries; it was a variety of things, and a lot of things that I wasn’t really expecting,” he said.

The collection of military vehicles and personnel in the Finke showgrounds under an Army flag was an excellent community engagement opportunity, which generated significant interest from participants and support crews alike.

Motocross and enduro riding continue to grow in the Army. AMXEA is sending nine riders to compete in the World Vets Motocross championship in the US, and big plans are already afoot for Finke 2024 when the brigade is planning for an even bigger presence.

ADF members new to off-road motorcycling might want to investigate the AMXEA Off Road Motorcycle training camp, which will run in early December at Kokoda Barracks, Canungra.


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