When overseas travellers returned to Australia because of COVID-19 in 2020, movements Warrant Officer Melinda Skinner was on the frontline to welcome them home.
CAPTION: Royal Australian Air Force Warrant Officer Melinda Skinner from 13 Squadron at the Air Movements section in RAAF Base Darwin. Story by Corporal Michael Rogers. Photo by Corporal Madhur Chitnis.
Darwin was the only RAAF base accepting civilian flights at the time, and more than 60 international flights delivered thousands of Australians.
Warrant Officer Skinner coordinated with the Northern Territory Government, Australian Border Force, and other agencies to ensure people were processed efficiently and safely, using her decades of experience in humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) operations.
“It was HADR with a bit of a twist. So, teaching my troops how to be compassionate and to understand that it’s an overwhelming experience people are dealing with was important,” Warrant Officer Skinner said.
“You also have to be firm with people and let them know ‘we are here to help but you have to do this’. It was fairly emotional but my troops were amazing.”
Processes developed by Warrant Officer Skinner and her team were adopted by the Darwin International Airport, then used to welcome many more Australians home.
This included the Australian Olympic team that returned from competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Through the processes and safety regime managed by Warrant Officer Skinner, 13 Squadron was able to complete their duties without a single aviator contracting COVID-19 from the repatriation flights, something she is proud of.
“We were out there loading bags and assisting the repatriated people, just being that friendly support for them, while we were in full masks, overalls and aprons,” she said.
“I said how do we make our work life safer, how can we become a safer work environment, so we’re pretty impressed with our record of not having anyone catch COVID-19.”
For her role in the successful repatriation efforts, Warrant Officer Skinner was awarded a Conspicuous Service Cross as part of the 2024 Australia Day Honours, which she said was a big shock.
“I don’t seek recognition for anything, I do everything for my troops and I want to be that mentor for them. I’m really humbled, honoured and speechless,” Warrant Officer Skinner said.
“It’s an absolute honour and privilege to be recognised like this.”
Warrant Officer Skinner grew up in Perth and joined the Air Force in 1987 at age 17. She initially joined as a supplier, then changed to movements when it was made its own mustering in 2008.
She enjoys the diversity and frontline nature of movements, and has deployed on numerous HADR operations, including responding to the Bali Bombings and tsunami relief.
“Being there from the beginning when we were learning how to do these operations, and now as the warrant officer teaching the troops, that’s what I love about my job. My troops define me,” Warrant Officer Skinner said.