Skilled-up chainsaw corps carves out breathing room

An Army Reserve infantryman from the 2/17th Battalion, Royal NSW Regiment, Private Jake Jubelin, clears a track to a destroyed property near Bega. Photo: Major Cameron Jamieson

Skilled-up chainsaw corps carves out breathing room

Army Reserve infantry soldiers have literally swung into action in south-east NSW, thanks to their rapid call-up and some chainsaw training from the School of Military Engineering.

The fit and nimble soldiers had their skillsets enhanced with a one-day chainsaw course held at the school in Holsworthy that qualified them in crosscut operations before departing for the coast.

This training has allowed them to cut apart fallen timber so their teams can haul away bushfire debris from roads, tracks, fences and properties.

Lieutenant Aiden Frost, of 2/17th Battalion, Royal NSW Regiment, and now the team leader for the 5th Engineer Regiment Task Group’s Strike Team 3, Response Team Alpha, said the crisis instantly focused the minds of all soldiers in the field.

“What I’ve noticed is that the traditional rivalries between units may still exist for the purposes of humour and rivalry, but the truth is that everybody here is a soldier first,” Lieutenant Frost said.

“In the absence of normal coordination, it’s been amazing to see people across the corps work together to make things happen and help the people affected by this tragedy.”

The dedication of the soldiers also gives a sense of hope to homeowners who have lost everything.

Verona residents Jim and Enid Humphries lost their home to the fires north of Bega. They have been living in a tent, but now have a caravan to live in.

A new access track to their property was needed to circumvent the destroyed house but the path was blocked by burnt-out trees. That changed when Strike Team 3 arrived.

Mr Humphries said the presence of the soldiers was an unexpected godsend.

“Without them I’d have to be into this with a chainsaw and that wouldn’t be pretty,” the 75-year old said.

“Before the fire, this was quite a pleasant area but the fire erupted in just a matter of seconds, now it’s hell on earth.”

Mr Humphries said now he had a caravan he and his wife could consider their options, as with so many of his devastated neighbours and community members.

“We are just one of the many, there’s a hell of lot in the same boat, a hell of a lot,” he said.

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