While many Australian soldiers are returning home for Anzac Day, some will travel back to the communities they served in during Operation Bushfire Assist 2019-20. Troops are taking part in commemorations in communities where they have a strong connection – either the place they think of as home, or where they bonded with locals during the devastating summer fires. Around 130 officers and soldiers are on the move across the nation, visiting places like Eden on the NSW’s south coast, Mallacoota in Victoria and Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
Commander Forces Command, Major General Matt Pearse, said it was important for soldiers to preserve the connections they have built in some of the worst fire-affected areas. “As the COVID-19 restrictions ease, we are taking this chance to get some of our soldiers back to the areas they were working in during the fires,” Pearse said. “This is an opportunity to strengthen Army’s commitment and contribution to our community. Many of those communities have asked us to make a particular effort to get our people back to show their appreciation for the work they did.”
Troops from brigades, training centres and units in Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide and Sydney will be among those travelling to fire-affected communities. Adelaide-based soldiers from the 1st and 9th Brigades will be in Kangaroo Island, with the NSW-based 5th Brigade sending troops from Canberra to Eden. “While we’re always working hard to connect with everyone who lives nearby, there is of course often another place we think of as home, or where we have a deep connection with a community that time and distance cannot erode,” Pearse said. “As we get back to our core business of training for war , it’s good for us to pause and gather with the communities we are from, and where we have served during these extraordinary times. It’s an opportunity to return, reunite and remember.”
Meanwhile, Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr returned home to South Australia to participate in Anzac Day commemorations, meeting with Kangaroo Island residents and viewing the ongoing bushfire recovery works. Burr, accompanied by Mayor Michael Pengilly, visited Kangaroo Island, ahead of returning South Australian-based soldiers who assisted with 2019-20 bushfire operations. This includes over 40 members of the 1st Armoured Regiment (1AR) and the 9th Combat Service Support Battalion (CSSB) from the 9th Brigade.
On Anzac Day Burr will attend the Dawn Service at the South Australian National War Memorial. He will observe the commemorative march past the King William Road Dias and attend an Anzac Day reception at Government House. Burr said the changes to COVID-19 restrictions meant this year was an opportunity for Army personnel to re-engage with their hometowns and the communities they assisted through recent national relief operations.
“In 2021, Australian soldiers of all ranks once again have an opportunity to share Anzac Day with family, friends and the community,” Burr said. “For me, it is an honour to commemorate this special day with the people of South Australia. “Anzac Day is a day that belongs to us all. It embodies the national spirit, which is clearly seen in the resolve of all Australians affected by recent events.”