Aviators’ life-changing Kokoda experience

Walking the Kokoda Track is a rite of passage for many Australians, and was an emotional experience for nine 35 Squadron aviators who walked the track in July.

CAPTIONAviators from 35 Squadron, RAAF Base Amberley, preparing to walk the Kokoda Track in July. Story by Flight Lieutenant Greg Hinks.

It was a bucket-list moment for Sergeant Dallas Young, of 35 Squadron, who paid his respects to those who fought on the track, led by guides with family connections to World War 2.

“The guides have lived their whole lives on the track and, because of their family connections to the war, were able to show us points of significance, explaining what had happened and the impact of the Kokoda campaign,” Sergeant Young said.

Sergeant Young described the track as brutal; and even though it was more of a mental challenge than a physical one, was astounded at the difficult terrain that soldiers fought on.

“The track was relentless and the terrain incredibly tough, from sheer rocky cliffs to ankle-deep mud and everything in between,” Sergeant Young said.

“It was hard enough to keep yourself upright, let alone soldiers in wartime trying to do it with heavy packs, limited food and sleep, and with an enemy constantly engaging them.”

Emotions ran high for the nine aviators, with tears shed at a special dawn service at the Isurava War Memorial as they remembered the fallen.

“Standing there in silence in the middle of the jungle at such a significant site with the Last Postplaying was incredibly moving,” Sergeant Young said.

“After we each laid a wreath on the memorial, which our guides had made for us, they then all joined together and sang a hymn for us, which closed the service beautifully.”

The trip also had moments of joy, with the 35 Squadron aviators delivering footballs to local children at villages along the track.

“Every village we arrived in we were met with excitement and sheer joy, and that intensified when a ball was produced,” Sergeant Young said.

“They all happily played football into the dark, and there were some seriously talented kids running around.”

Sergeant Young encouraged Air Force aviators to take-up the challenge of walking the Kokoda Track.

“It was a life-changing experience for all of us, and it provided us with many tools that will be so useful in our day-to-day lives,” he said.

“It is something that will stay with us all forever.”


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