On New Year’s Eve 2003, Private Brendan Mills was recalled from leave for immediate return to his Australian Army unit in Townsville. The official reason of the Australian Government was he was to be deployed to support the Operation Slipper trade embargo against Afghanistan. The real reason was they were about to be sent to the second Gulf War.
Overnight we were issued with our kits and weapons, then sent to Jervis Bay for two months training with the Navy. Six weeks after that, we were sitting off the coast of Kuwait waiting for our orders to join the invasion forces.
Brendan was a member of a five-man landing craft crew responsible for the transfer of tanks, trucks and cargo from naval supply ships to landing beaches. During the Gulf War, his unit also worked alongside British and US boarding teams patrolling the Persian Gulf for illegal shipments of contraband goods, munitions and oil exports, and transferred captured Iraqi POWs to holding ships.
“Going to war is a surreal experience. When I came home, it was very difficult to describe what it was like. One day we are boarding ships and capturing Iraqi tugs, a short time later we were back in Australia and unsure of what really happened.”
The memories of being in a conflict zone haunt many Army personnel, but it is also the waiting and uncertainty that takes its toll on people’s minds. “For long periods were in a state of high alert after we were deployed, but for operational reasons we were not told where we were and what our mission would be, and we had no idea of what was happening in other areas.
We found out that the U.S. had invaded Baghdad by watching Sky News!
If you step aboard a Lady-Class or First Fleet Ferry today you might catch a glimpse of Brendan in his Master’s uniform or Engineer overalls. He reflects on his time in the Army with great fondness, but is also acutely aware that he has since being able to build a new career with the Ferries and raise a family.
“Many people join the Army from school and find it very difficult to transition to civilian life, they struggle to live outside the regimented way of Army life. Of the 11 men who I went away with, three of them have since struggled with their mental health and not worked again.”
“I’m happy with my life and working on the Ferries now, but spare a thought for those who served in the forces and now live amongst us with the burden of those years.”