Tomorrow is Anzac Day, a day when we remember all Australians and New Zealanders who have served in wars, conflicts, peacekeeping, and disaster operations – especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The spirit of Anzac, which symbolises courage, tenacity, humour, and mateship, was established on 25 April 1915 when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula during World War I. This day marked the start of a campaign that lasted eight months and resulted in 25,000 Australian casualties.

The Anzac spirit lives on in all of us, particularly during times of crisis. While Anzac Day may look and feel a little different this year because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, it remains an important time for us all to reflect on the honour and sacrifice made by all of our servicemen and women – as well as their loved ones.

The past six months have put a spotlight on the sacrifice people in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) make. Rather than being deployed to conflicts overseas, the ADF has been deployed domestically across Australia on OP Bushfire Assist and now on OP COVID-19 Assist, helping communities and authorities manage the recoveries of two major crises.

In many cases, these personnel are reservists – particularly on OP Bushfire Assist, which saw the first general call-up of reservists in Australia’s history. This means they hold full-time jobs outside of Defence but are ready to be activated when our country needs them.

It’s important to recognise that the sacrifice isn’t made just by Defence personnel either – but also by their families. Below, in their own words, we share stories from our National Return to Work Coordinator Mark Zubrinch – a medic with 4th CSSB in Victoria – and Senior Coordinator Social Licence Sonia Oke, whose husband, Ryan, is a trooper with 3rd/9th Light Horse in South Australia. Both Mark and Ryan left their work and families behind to deploy on OP Bushfire Assist.


Mark’s story

On Saturday 4 January the Prime Minister announced the compulsory call-out of ADF Reserve Brigades for the first time in Australia's history.

I received a text message at about 8.00pm on the Monday night, and the next day I was on my way to Bairnsdale from Melbourne, where I'd be stationed for a couple of days before spending almost four weeks in Mallacoota in the East Gippsland region.

I'm a medic in the Army Reserve, but I served as a Civil Liaison in Bairnsdale and Mallacoota – which means my role was to ensure the work we were doing was relevant and impactful, by working closely with other emergency services and the community. We didn't want to take away work from the ambos and firies or the local community. For example, the ADF rebuilt a boardwalk that had burned down and was a central meeting place in Mallacoota because all of the trades were focused on rebuilding houses.

The biggest issue for Mallacoota was that there were only two main roads out – one to the north and one to the west – and they were both only accessible by armoured vehicles. Mallacoota is very isolated – which is particularly challenging at the moment – and this meant little issues became big issues. And when you've already got major challenges with bushfires and loss of houses, it really compounds the effects. We needed to integrate ourselves with the community to make sure that we weren't causing more issues than we were resolving.

Each day I'd attend meetings at the Incident Control Centre and local council, where we'd discuss what we were doing and plan ahead for the next day, week and month. One issue we immediately needed to resolve was the supply of fuel, as fuel couldn't come through any roads and there were fuel rations at the service stations. Within 48 hours we arranged a convoy for the fuel tanks to start getting in, ensuring Mallacoota had a regular supply of fuel.

We also had a community brief each afternoon at 4.00pm, which included community members and a representative from each of the support services. This was an important way for us to deliver relevant messages to the community. As the Civil Liaison, I also managed community engagement activities – including organising cricket matches on a Sunday and setting up an armoured ambulance to take people for rides throughout the town. We got to know the local community as best as we could.

As a town of about 1,000 people – which peaks at 4,000 during the tourist months – they're not used to seeing armoured vehicles and people in uniform strolling the streets – so we wanted to take the edge off and show that we're human beings and here to help.

It was humbling to be able to assist and see the benefit of the wider group, not just the ADF but the way everyone worked together, including the community, emergency services and charitable organisations. I felt privileged to see that and be part of it.


Sonia’s story

My husband Ryan is a Trooper in the 3rd/9th Light Horse – South Australian Mounted Rifles in the Army Reserves. This January, Ryan was deployed in the compulsory call out for OP Bushfire Assist, helping the community to recover after the devastating bushfires.

Ryan was away for five weeks in total, assisting with critical recovery efforts in fire-affected areas across South Australia – including feeding orphaned koala joeys at Cleland Wildlife Park, removing damaged fences from properties, clearing fallen trees and establishing fire breaks, and liaising with community members, logging their requests for support at the Lobethal Recovery Centre.

As a partner of an Army Reservist, I am incredibly proud of Ryan. We have been lucky enough to have never experienced the devastation and loss after a bushfire ourselves, but I’m sure the fact that Ryan and the 3,000 other reservists deployed were available to help will have eased the pain of many Australians who were not so lucky.

On a personal level, it was challenging juggling these work responsibilities and looking after our three-year-old twins while Ryan was deployed. We missed him so much! We are lucky though, as we have a fantastic support network. My parents helped out significantly, and AGL’s flexible working arrangements greatly assisted us too.

Some days I had it together, and some days I was a hot mess – but I know the positive community impact delivered by the Australian Defence Force greatly outweighs the fleeting discomfort we experienced as a family. I’d like to give a special shout out to all my colleagues who were there for me, and who were regularly checking-in.

We’re all living in challenging and uncertain times now, as the coronavirus continues to spread around the world. More than ever, it’s important we remember the men and women who have served, and who are serving right now – whether they are full-time or reservists. It puts things into perspective - we'll get through this.

I asked Ryan for his thoughts to, and he had this to say: One of the strong drivers for me in joining the Army Reserves was the prospect of disaster relief, and the ability to help fellow Australians on home soil. With the ever evolving COVID-19 pandemic, the successes we had on Operation Bushfire Assist has given me great confidence in the Army’s ability to work alongside first responders to assist and support our community.


How to get involved this Anzac Day

Earlier this month, the Australian Government made the difficult decision to cancel all Australian-led Anzac Day services for this year, instead encouraging us to #StandAtDawn and watch the live telecast of the dawn service at the Australian War Memorial.

We encourage all people to light a candle, or use the light on your phone, and join your neighbours in a combined Dawn Service ceremony from your balcony or driveway. From 5am local time, you can watch the National Dawn Service on ABC TV, the ABC Australia Facebook page, and also on the ABC Australia YouTube channel.

Local Anzac services across the country will also be broadcast on ABC TV and local radio. To find out more about this year’s Anzac Day services, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website. And finally, if you have friends or family who are currently on deployment – or who have previously served – make sure you send them a message, or organise a video call, to let them know you’re thinking of them.