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Ex ARA CPL (10 yrs)
Army March 3, 2011
By LCpl Mark Doran
"FOR 10 hours it sounded like a
freight train was going to hit the
This was how a soldier's wife
described sitting out the destructive winds
of Tropical Cyclone Yasi.
Luckily, Townsville's Defence families
had a place to regroup and obtain support
after the cyclone by visiting the Geckos
Family Centre at Lavarack Barracks.
Up to 25 families were able to use the
hot showers, washing machine and dryer
at the family centre after their homes were
waterlogged and lost power or water.
Geckos manager WO2 Kim Loadsman
said most families coped quite well with
the effects of the cyclone.
"Defence families are pretty tough,
they are capable of bouncing back and
can stand on their own two feet," WO2
"There were some families that were
new to the north and had only been in
Townsville for three weeks before they
were hit with the Category 5 cyclone.
"These families were very scared and
needed some reassurance and comfort
after facing such a terrifying experience.
"The majority of families understand
that the soldiers are looking after people
who are worse off, but it is still hard."
The major damage to Geckos was
to the playground sun shade, which was
shredded and needed to be replaced.
WO2 Loadsman hopes Geckos will
find financial aid to help with repair costs.
families bounce back
TWO Army psychology support
teams deployed to Rockhampton
to help Queensland Health manage
mental health issues among flood
victims in Queensland.
Both two-person teams were
assembled from 1 Psych Unit, based at
Randwick in Sydney, and deployed as
part of JTF 637. They comprised Capts
Joseph Hwang, Amy Curtis, Carla
Devine and Johan Grobler.
Their deployment came at the
request of Queensland Health.
According to Maj Kristi Heffernan,
1 Psych Unit, the decision to deploy
the teams was made on January 15
and they arrived in Rockhampton three
The teams were briefed by local
authorities in Rockhampton and then
drove to Biloela from where they pro-
vided psychological first aid and coun-
selling to flood victims, particularly in
the Theodore area.
The teams worked alongside
mental health professionals from
Queensland Health and liaised with
Maj Heffernan said the psychol-
ogists were very enthusiastic about
the task, and although the devastation
faced by the communities was chal-
lenging, they were impressed with the
communities' resilience and "give it a
There was almost no need for for-
mal interventions and psycho-educa-
tion could be provided informally.
"The team found the residents were
very welcoming to them and invited
them to their Australia Day barbecues,
schools and homes," she said.
"Military psychologists are expe-
rienced at providing psychological
first aid and more developed Critical
Incident Mental Health Support
"It is this experience and profes-
sional support provided among psy-
chology teams that enables them to
provide support to tasks such as this."
CO 1 Psych Unit Lt-Col Nicole
Sadler said Queensland Health was
happy with the assistance from the
teams, while the team members felt
they had gained valuable experience
working with civilian agencies.
"I think the participation of psy-
chologists in the initial relief activities
helped to reassure the flood victims
that the Australian Government and
the Army could be counted on to pro-
vide immediate assistance," she said.
"More importantly, the early link
with psychologists may increase the
willingness of individuals to seek psy-
chological assistance if they need it
The team returned to Sydney dur-
ing the first week in February. For
Capts Curtis and Devine, who had
only marched into 1 Psych Unit in
January, the work in Queensland was
their first deployment as psychologists.
The OC of the Mental Health
and Psychology Section at Gallipoli
Barracks, Maj James Burchmore,
said ADF mental health elements in
south-east Queensland provided sup-
port to ADF assets in the area. Capt
Kane Pfingst of AATC and Lt Mark
Oostergo and Cpl Rebecca Jones
from Gallipoli Barracks had provid-
ed a Critical Incident Mental Health
Support (CIMHS) response to aviation
elements and 2CER personnel.
"Any large, broad-scale response
would be planned and coordinated
by 1 Psych Unit, which would like-
ly use 2HSB psychology assets with
Joint Health Command psychology
assets supporting as required," Maj
"Any ADF member who was not on
duty and impacted by the floods would
be supported as part of the commu-
nity response, unless they specifically
requested ADF psychological support."
CIMHS is the ADF framework of
psychological support in place for dis-
asters, and other major incidents. It
comprises a number of procedures and
support mechanisms that can be called
upon by commanders, depending on
the nature of the critical incident, but
in all instances its aim is to mitigate
effects on personnel.
Psychological first aid also might
be provided immediately after the inci-
dent as part of CIMHS.
A CIMHS response might include
psychological education and screening
for those considered most at risk of
an adverse reaction to a critical inci-
dent, as well as other possible activi-
ties depending on the situation.
Psychs offer flood support
Psych support: From left, Capts Amy Curtis, Johan Grobler, Joseph Hwang and Carla Devine deployed to
Queensland during the flood crisis to provide mental health support to communities.
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