By Anastasia Bougesis, Chief Development Officer, Disaster Relief Australia (DRA)
When Australia found itself in the grips of a never before seen pandemic, it was no surprise that veterans were sought to stand on the front line. The fight against COVID-19 in both Sydney and Melbourne has seen members of DRA (formerly Team Rubicon Australia) employed to support operations on the frontline. Their unique skills and experience leave them well placed to provide workforce solutions in the midst of crisis. Across the nation, our veterans are stepping up in the fight against an unseen enemy.
When COVID-19 restrictions came into force in late March of 2020, DRA had more than 90 veterans deployed across three states delivering a broad range of disaster relief services to the survivors of the Black Summer fires. Throughout the 19/20 fire season, DRA deployed more than 400 veterans into disaster zones around Australia. These veterans demonstrated forcefully the versatility and transferability of experience and training gained in the military.
With the Australian Defence Force (ADF) serving alongside police and healthcare workers in the fight to contain COVID-19, it was an obvious step for authorities and other organisations dealing with the pandemic to enlist the services of veterans, who have proven time and again to be reliable, agile, and disciplined.
DRA began COVID-19-related operations in April 2020, under the banner of Operation Sexton, named for Melbourne-born Dr Helen Sexton who, after her offer to help Australian medical authorities on the Western Front during the First World War was declined, established her own field hospital in Auteuil, France.
As the pandemic unfolded throughout April and into May, DRA teamed with P&G Purpose to provide command, control and logistical support that facilitated the rollout of custom-built, drive-up, COVID testing stations across Sydney. These COVID testing stations were the first of their kind, an initiative born of necessity and delivered by veterans who continue to serve when and where they are needed.
In Sydney throughout June and July, DRA responded to a request from the NSW Police to support the hotel quarantine measures that were being rapidly implemented as a control measure for people returning from overseas. DRA’s veterans performed a broad range of functions to support people, and in particular, families, while they were quarantined. An inter-agency response to a crisis is nothing new to a veteran, and they easily adapted to the tasks and structure of the NSW Police-led operation.
DRA’s COVID response also saw our members provide onsite support to Victoria Police, SES, Ambulance Victoria and the Department of Health and Human Services throughout July at two public housing locations following COVID outbreaks that forced the buildings to be suddenly and unexpectedly placed into quarantine lockdown. In this instance, DRA members drew on their military training and experience to support and advise the incident management teams as they worked to manage the situation.
In other states, DRA members continue to support vulnerable and isolated members of the community. Disaster Relief Teams in Sydney, Canberra and Townsville have assisted older veterans, war widows and other community members with maintenance, clean-up, logistical support and other tasks. At a time when accessing services deemed to be non-essential is difficult, DRA’s members are working to ensure our most vulnerable community members are not forgotten. The works provided by DRA on these occasions not only helped in a physical sense but has an immense impact on the mental health of the people we serve.
One positive aspect of the mostly volunteer work carried out above has been a growing recognition by employers of the value veterans bring to the workforce. DRA’s CEO Geoff Evans says that, ‘the pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in the number of employers and employment agencies contacting us to recruit veterans into paid positions in areas like contact tracing, aged care and COVID testing’.
The fight against COVID-19 will continue to see DRA’s members employed to support operations on the frontline for as long as is necessary. Their unique skills and experience leave them well placed to provide workforce solutions in the midst of any crisis. Across the nation, our veterans are once again stepping up to serve in the fight against the unseen enemy.
DRA’s efforts are supported by the $3 million in Government funding to roll out employment-related programs through a one-off grant package.