A ceremony has been held at RAAF Base Amberley to welcome the safe return of No. 33 Squadron personnel from the Middle East region.
A KC-30A multi-role tanker transport carrying the squadron, which had just completed a two-week mandatory quarantine, was greeted with a water-arch salute from airfield firefighting vehicles, as well as by fellow squadron personnel and family members.
Under Operation Okra, No. 33 Squadron deployed rotations of a KC-30A and successive workforce to Air Task Group 630, providing air-to-air refuelling of Australian and Coalition aircraft. This deployment has been near continuous since September 2014.
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said she was proud of the contribution made by the ADF as part of the Coalition to defeat Daesh in Iraq.
“Australia is a strong and consistent contributor to the Coalition and has been engaged since 2014 as part of our global responsibility to support peace and security operations,” Senator Reynolds said.
“Since the start of the threat posed by Daesh to peace and stability in Iraq, the Coalition has liberated nearly 110,000 square kilometres and around 7.7 million Iraqis are free from Daesh oppression.
“As the year-long deployment comes to an end, I commend the crews, personnel and supporting Defence staff for their dedication, resilience and ongoing professionalism, as we work with our global Coalition partners.”
In six years, No. 33 Squadron flew 11,332 hours and completed 1440 missions, offloading more than 47,000 tonnes of fuel to receiver aircraft from seven Coalition partner nations.
“The experience gained while deployed on Operation Okra led us to find opportunities to design and improve our processes and it has informed how we operate today
No. 33 Squadron’s record with the KC-30A on Operation Okra led other air forces to call it the ‘Coalition tanker of choice’.
Commanding Officer No. 33 Squadron Wing Commander Sarah Stalker said more than 350 personnel had deployed with the squadron.
“Some of our personnel have completed four rotations through the Middle East, the equivalent of being deployed in theatre for about a year and one of our industry partner field service representatives has deployed six times in support,” Wing Commander Stalker said.
“The ceremony doesn’t just recognise those returning from this latest deployment, but the service and achievements of everyone who has gone before.
“The nature of No. 33 Squadron’s work is that many of our greatest accomplishments are done away from home, and over prolonged periods away from our families.”
Crews flying KC-30A missions for Operation Okra could be airborne for up to nine hours.
On the ground, technicians would routinely service and refuel the KC-30A in temperatures of more than 40 degrees celsius, often with only a few hours to get the aircraft airborne again.
“The experience gained while deployed on Operation Okra led us to find opportunities to design and improve our processes and it has informed how we operate today,” Wing Commander Stalker said.
“We sustained a single aircraft more than 12,000 kilometres away from our home base on a busy operational tempo for nearly six years.
“The KC-30A capability has come a long way since 2014, including the introduction of two additional airframes and a new role with the Government Transport and Communication configured KC-30A.
“Simultaneous to this deployment we systematically expanded air-to-air refuelling clearances, expanding the range of receiving aircraft the KC-30A was compatible with through test and evaluation trials and built experience in other operations and exercises. We were able to bring that expertise to enhance our capability in support of Operation Okra.
“I’m incredibly proud of the achievements 33 Squadron has accomplished as part of Operation Okra and each member who deployed should be considerably proud of their contribution, no matter the uniform