I guess everyone has a reason to volunteer for Disaster Relief Australia.

For me, I was drawn from the very beginning, initially I was told about the organisation by a friend I joined the Navy with back in the day. Then I saw the post come out on Facebook for Operation Dunlop and I sent in my expression of interest. I didn’t expect to be selected, but within a few days I found out I was going to be part of the operation and a week later I was helping clean up the mess Cyclone Debbie had inflicted on the town of Proserpine.

I thought I would be just getting in and cleaning up, helping locals dealing with the devastation that “may have” damaged their homes and generally just making their life a little less miserable.

I completely underestimated the impact the cyclone had caused the people and the community and what I was able to contribute individually to Team Rubicon by putting my hand up to help. I also didn’t factor in meeting some of the most positive, hardworking men and women with such compassion and empathy for others.

What an overwhelming experience! I have never met a group of people that felt like I totally belonged, we just clicked, even though we were all very different in some aspects. None of the differences seemed to matter.

It was like we had all been picked especially for the role we would play in the operation. I thought surely after a few days this wouldn’t be so wonderful and cracks would appear. But they didn’t, it just seems to be the way Disaster Relief Australia is. People without egos and more empathy and compassion than anyone I have ever come across.

The hardest part for me was witnessing the emotional trauma on the residents of Proserpine. Material possessions can be replaced but surviving something like a Cyclone when you don’t really know if you are going to live or die is very traumatic. Hearing these stories first hand and giving a hug and a kind word to complete strangers has more power than I ever thought possible. It really hit home to me.

My daughter was on Hamilton Island when the cyclone went through and before I saw the people from Proserpine and how they were coping I didn’t realise how much of an impact it may have had on my daughter. I was talking to her daily and reassuring her it would all be ok, but it wasn’t until I went out and conducted my first damage assessment that I felt the need to “change my socks” and go and visit her.

I felt guilty taking time off from the mission to go and see my daughter when everyone else was working so hard. But I was strongly encouraged by one the members of the IMT that regardless whether it is “Mission first” it is “Greyshirts always” and I should go. We met in Airlie Beach for lunch and I was so grateful to be able to take a few hours away from the operation and see her.

Operation Dunlop was definitely one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I feel privileged to have been part of such a wonderful mission.

I see the world a little differently since returning from Operation Dunlop. As a mother of seven children, a veteran, parents who are veterans and with four boys around the age of the young men I worked with on this mission, although I do not wish for devastation like what has happened to the community of Proserpine, I am excited for the next mission so my children can experience what I did.

I am certain that this organisation has created a safe place where men and women can, without judgement and criticism serve a purpose, integrate into society and show off their amazing skills that the military has afforded them.

I am grateful for the realisations I experienced with my time on Operation Dunlop. I am proud to say I am apart of this TRibe. A TRibe where it doesn’t matter where you come from, how old you are or what your circumstances were that brought you together. You can just get in there and “get shit done”.

Deborah Fenton , Veteran — Team Rubicon Australia
May 17, 2017