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April 20, 2017
prowess as 3 Bde
DEBBIE RECOVERY P2-5 TAJI TRAINING P8-9
in preparation for
Ready Battle Group
Photo: Cpl Nunu Campos
April 20, 2017
HE destruction from Tropical
Cyclone Debbie confronted about
1600 ADF personnel as they
arrived on the Whitsunday Coast
for Operation Queensland Assist 2017.
Twisted metal roofing and severed
power lines; uprooted trees stripped of bark
and foliage; boats crushed on wharves and
beaches; debris everywhere.
But this wasn’t the start of the response.
Before the Emergency Support Force (ESF)
rolled forward from Townsville, much had
already been done to prepare.
As the cyclone neared North Queensland
in late March, 3 Bde troops were rapidly
returned from exercises at the Townsville
Field Training Area to secure equipment and
help their own families prepare.
A joint task force – JTF661 – was raised
to respond to Queensland government
requests for assistance.
Reconnaissance and assessment teams
were first out the door to gauge the damage.
Soldiers of 5 Avn Regt played a key role
during this phase and were soon involved in
a wider spectrum of tasking. This involved
transporting medical staff and supplies,
evacuation, and the critical resupply of clean
Rapid response coordination was enabled
by liaison teams from the JTF and Joint
Operations Support Staff, pre-positioned
and ready. They worked closely with state
and local government and the community to
understand the needs of the affected areas
enabling JTF planners
to prioritise tasking.
momentum by land,
sea and air. LCM8s
of 35 Water Tpt Sqn
pressed south along
the coast as the ESF
comprising more than
300 personnel and 85
vehicles from 3 Bde
tracked south from
CO ESF and
3CER Lt-Col Jennifer Harris said the ESF’s
focus was to work with the Queensland gov-
ernment and disaster coordination authori-
ties to help the Whitsunday and Mackay
council areas get back on their feet.
“We brought key military assets to help
clear debris like advanced chainsaw opera-
tors who can get into areas where deadfall
has come down in the vicinity of houses,”
Lt-Col Harris said.
“We also brought a significant amount of
plant equipment to get the sheer volume of
debris back to transfer stations and help the
council and the local community access key
routes and critical public infrastructure.
“The ability to help out and support the
Queensland community in this difficult time
and is rewarding for the entire ESF.”
The ESF surged to the communities of
Bowen and Collinsville, assisting in impor-
tant clean-up tasks that allowed access to
key routes and removed debris that ham-
pered recovery efforts.
Focus then shifted to the Proserpine and
Airlie Beach areas, helping isolated com-
munities that were worst hit by the cyclone’s
wind damage and storm surge – Dingo
Beach, Hydeaway Bay, Wilson Beach and
Conway Beach, Midge Point, Searforth as
well as communities inland.
ESF tasks included assisting with the
restoration of critical infrastructure, road
and route clearance, emergency water distri-
bution, welfare checks and reconnaissance,
surveillance and damage assessment.
The ADF places a high priority on sup-
port to critical infrastructure restoration that
directly benefits affected communities. This
was apparent throughout the operation from
refilling Airlie Beach water reservoir tanks
to transporting Ergon workers to inaccessi-
ble areas to fix damaged power lines.
Along with civil-military cooperation,
the joint aspect of the operation was also
highly effective. 3CSSB transport assets in
Townsville brought flood barriers to RAAF
aircraft bound for Rockhampton to assist
flood mitigation at the airport.
In the Whitsundays, LCM8s married up
with HMAS Choules and landed 17 Const
Sqn, 6ESR, assets ashore to assist the ESF
to support coastal communities. It was these
small beach communities that were among
the hardest hit.
Army and Navy were among the first
responders to assist some of the isolated
residents along the coast. The Navy ensured
safe navigation and landing access to the
communities and Army teams from the ESF
provided assistance on the ground.
Hydeaway Bay resident Maren Matthew
and her husband spent hours clinging to
their glass balcony doors during the cyclone
to prevent them from blowing off.
“It was the most horrific experience of
our lives; the worst two days of our lives.
We’ve never spent two days as bad as this in
any circumstances,” Mrs Matthew said.
“I think the Army and Navy are doing a
fantastic job. I can’t believe how wonderful
The ability to adapt is important in emer-
gency response, particularly when nature
throws up more surprises. With flooding
threatening Rockhampton further south, 17
Const Sqn assets re-embarked Choules and
in a short time were once again being ferried
ashore by LCM8s –
this time at Yeppoon
for support tasking at
also required when
the commander of
the JTF and 3 Bde
Brig Chris Field was
appointed to the role
of State Recovery
Damian Hill stepped
up to lead the JTF and
said the transition was
seamless because of the first-class systems
in place and the quality of the personnel –
civilian and military.
“The operation didn’t miss a beat, such
was the professionalism of those involved,”
Col Hill said.
On April 10 the ADF began reducing its
support to Queensland emergency services.
At the time of printing Army News, units
assigned to JTF661 were gradually return-
ing to their home bases as the clean-up and
reconstruction situation in North Queensland
moved into its next phase.
CJOPS VAdm David Johnston said the
ADF personnel had successfully completed
the tasks civilian authorities requested of
“The Queensland disaster recovery effort
in the Whitsunday region will see a transi-
tion from a Defence-supported emergency
response to a Queensland government-led
recovery,” VAdm Johnston said.
While many of the ADF assets have
started leaving the region, 65 personnel
and 40 vehicles from 17 Const Sqn remain
in the Rockhampton area to support pos-
sible requests for assistance as flood waters
Over 72 hours between April 7-9, sol-
diers of 17 Const Sqn helped Queensland
fire and emergency services dismantle
temporary flood barriers at Rockhampton
Airport and some residential areas where the
water had receded.
As the ESF returned to Townsville, many
soldiers shared a view that they planned to
return on holiday to the Whitsundays later
in the year as a way of helping the tourist
destination get back on its feet, such was the
connection made with the local community.
Soldiers have been integral in the clean-up efforts
following Tropical Cyclone Debbie, PO Paul Berry,
Capt William Heck and Maj Al Green report.
Troops make a difference
Gunners from 4 Regt RAA
help clear fallen branches
from a yard in Hydeaway Bay.
Photo: Cpl David Said
didn’t miss a beat,
such was the
Col Damian Hill,
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