The Royal New South Wales Lancers
|Bushfires and COVID 2020|
In November 2019 we were asked to conduct a call out exercise this was an opportunity for us to see how well we could execute a call out for a limited number of volunteers if that was ever required. It proved quite fortuitous in that we were able to iron out several of the kinks and bugs associated with us doing a general call out which would occur soon after.
I'm sure everyone will remember the devastating bushfires that started in southeast Queensland and continued down through New South Wales and Victoria from late 2019 into 2020. This was an unprecedented catastrophic event for the east coast and some other parts of Australia. The Commonwealth offered support via the ADF to help each of the states and territories as the lead agencies combat these devastating fires. For the fifth brigade and for the Lancers based at Holsworthy and Parramatta we commenced the launch of a response team in early January. The lancers were able to generate a cavalry squadron mounted in PMV which left round about 6 January and was in the field for about 28 days or so. That element was attached to the fifth engineer regiment and operated largely in southern New South Wales providing support to the RFS and New South Wales Police in bushfire response and later bushfire recovery. Our vehicles were good to go they were fully equipped, our radios and all of our stores were able to be assembled at short notice.
By the 8th and 9th of January that position changed and the 1st/15th was tasked with raising a second emergency support force element. This was a squadron size group to conduct general duties activities as the first element that had done under call for. The second team was raised within a matter of days and launched with the remaining PMVs that the regiment had plus some additional vehicles that we were able to get. This second team worked under the 2/17 task group so we had two groups one in the far north of New South Wales from basically Singleton up to Taree and then one in the south in the sort of Bega/Eden area. Not long after that the regimental headquarters came in and replaced the J5 cell so by early February we had most of the regiment committed with the exception of those who could not participate under the call out (key work commitments) or due to emergency services employment already working with the Police or Fire departments, incl RFS). This meant we had about 80 percent of the regiment on operations by early February which was an amazing achievement in itself.
By the 27 January we moved into a recovery mode. Largely they were doing route clearance as mentioned chainsaw work but in the north in particular we did kilometres of fencing putting up burnt or damaged fencing right across all sorts of areas based on request from local government authorities.
By about the end of February things started to wind down and we were able to catch our breath and we conducted retrograde activities. About that time we just started to hear about this word COVID-19. The viral infection had started to jump boundaries and the world was turning to pay attention. There wasn't yet confirmation of its pandemic status but we knew something big was happening, I remember joking in the headquarters with the bushfire team that I wondered if we were going to start switching soon from bushfires to a COVID-19 response.
Resuming training in March the Regiment had to start to innovate and think about new and better ways to connect to still conduct our training and mitigate the risk of the spread of this terrible disease. There were some really interesting thoughts and ways the regiment was able to conduct business, unfortunately during this time as well the cadet unit based at lancer barracks and the regimental museum were both shut down. The regiment moved largely to a virtual way of parading. We used a number of different video technologies different courses different ways of connecting all via online.
To check-out the limits we could go to, we held a video conference weekend with an element of the Royal Yeomanry based in London and some other yeomanry units from the British Army Royal Armoured Corps Reserve; this was a great example of the power of technology and how it can easily transcend boundaries. It also showed us what might be possible from a interoperability perspective with coalition partners.
On 30 March the call came for help. There was an overwhelming response from the regiment, within about four days we were able to generate all of the force elements that were required for our part of OP COVID-19 Assist. The lancers were required to conduct Port Compliance Management support across the four major commercial ports in New South Wales. The port of Eden, Port Kembla, Port Botany and port of Newcastle. We established a troop headquarters and element to look after all of the commercial shipping in each port for 28 days. As things happened the nice quiet port task that we'd hoped had suddenly shifted very quickly with the arrival of the MV Ruby Princess into Port Kembla. The politically sensitive issue, was well handled by the young troop leader who was managing Port Kembla.
The New South Wales ports task ended at the end of May. During that time we had looked after 1,155 different vessels across those four ports.
For two months we all went back to civil employment then on the 8 July, 500 ADF were required to move at best speed to the NSW/VIC border in order to occupy positions in support of the police in border control checkpoints. I remember distinctly at lunchtime on Monday 6 July the deputy commander and later the commander touched base and said what are you up to, do you think you could be in Albury tomorrow. Within 48 hours the entire regimental headquarters supplemented from the squadrons were en-route to the border to conduct this task. We were stretched from the Pacific Ocean at Eden all the way through to Mildura not that far from the South Australian border, 1,400 kilometres. July, middle of winter, very cold. Some of our checkpoints were in the police district of Monaro which is the southern end of the snowy mountains. In the days preceding our arrival the Barry Way checkpoint had the largest snowfall in the last 10 years.
It was the end of November before the Regiment was withdrawn. A great experience helping our fellow citizens in what is a new role for the ADF; a role well suited to the Reserve who can use their regional knowledge and release the Regulars for warfighting.
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew White CO 2020
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