Tradies are out on the front line using their skills to serve their country in the Australian Defence Force in places as far afield as Afghanistan and the wider Middle East Region.
Lance Corporal (LCPL) Craig Gibbs, a vehicle mechanic in the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME) talked to TTT about his first six month deployment in Kabul as part of Task Group Afghanistan.
“We have received indirect fire and were ‘stood to’ in the middle of the night activating a set of safety protocols. All Australians were safe and accounted for but it definitely made the environment and element of risk feel very real,” said LCPL Gibbs.
“We could potentially be targeted with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) when we drive around Kabul. However we have force protection measures and other procedures in place to mitigate the danger,” he added.
LCPL Gibbs served as an infantry soldier for six years in the 1980s and re-enlisted in 2004 as a Marine Specialist before transferring to RAEME in 2012 with the goal of overseas deployment.
“I completed a three year traineeship in Albury-Wodonga at the School of Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a vehicle mechanic,” he said.
“I have the technical authority to maintain, inspect and carry out repairs on a large number of vehicles for Task Group Afghanistan.”
LCPL Gibbs starts each day with physical training as part of the military fitness regime before moving onto his responsibilities overseeing the Task Force’s fleet of vehicles, including armoured vehicles called Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMVs), up-armoured sports utility vehicles and Mercedes Benz Unimogs.
“The highlight for me is driving our PMVs in and around the Kabul area to other NATO establishments. I enjoy getting out and about to experience different locations in Afghanistan,” he said.
His job also entails other tasks such as mounting TVS or official images on walls and assisting the construction engineer with carpentry duties.
“We have a close team of tradies and hands-on staff and we all help each other out where we can,” he said.
“The Army and the Defence Force in general provide an excellent culture, especially great camaraderie. I enjoy my job but, more so, I enjoy the mates I’ve made along the way.”
Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Clinton Ryan, an electrician and member of the RAAF Base Townsville Number 65 Squadron, also cites the people as being a big positive of serving in the Defence Force.
“It’s a really enjoyable career because you get to meet so many people and you have a lot in common with the people you work with,” he told TTT.
Currently deployed as part of a Combat Support Group to a classified location in the Middle East, LAC Ryan uses his trade to help maintain operations at the Australian Air Task Group’s main operating base.
“I always wanted to serve in the military but I got offered an apprenticeship as an electrician when I was 17 so joining got put on hold,” he said.
“After I finished my apprenticeship I was just trawling the internet when an ad popped up for electrician jobs in the Air Force, so I applied.”
Five years later in August 2016, LAC Ryan is four months into his first six-month deployment.
“There is a lot of force preparation training before you go which involves cultural briefs and what to expect whilst deployed,” he said.
“There’s not much training involved in the electrical side of things as we are already tradesmen but once we arrived we were familiarised with electrical equipment which may be a little different to what we normally work on.”
Maintaining the Field Deployable Environmental Control Units, self-contained air conditioners attached to accommodation tents, is one of the primary tasks LAC Ryan is engaged with in the hot conditions of the Middle East.
“A lot of our work here is to maintain base services but we have completed various tasks that involved complete electrical fitouts, including lights, power and switchboard upgrades,” he added.
With daytime temperatures reaching 52 degrees Celsius in summer, LAC Ryan said heat is a major risk to operations at the base.
“We have a big responsibility to ensure that everything is running correctly.”
“There is a lot more stress involved here than in Australia as all our tasks are mission critical. If we have a power failure or there is a fault in communications equipment then aircraft and personnel may not be able to complete their specific missions.”
Despite the pressure, he enjoys his role and cited working with coalition forces and seeing how they operate compared to the Australian military as a highlight.