Driving change in Afghanistan
2 February 2016
37-year old Toowoomba local Luke McKinnon always had a passion for driving.
When hoards of schoolies descended on Surfers Paradise in 1995, Luke was among them, not to party, but to start his first job as a delivery driver for Marie's Pizzas on the Gold Coast.
Little did he know, Luke's enthusiasm for driving and his conviction for hard, honest work would take him to some of the most diverse corners of the globe.
Luke's father served 20 years in the Australian Army as a combat engineer and ordnance clerk. His great grandfather served and died in World War II in Burma, and his mum's great uncle perished in Changi, Thailand.
Despite his military pedigree, Luke said he grew up with a dislike for Army.
"We just moved from town to town, place to place far too often," he said.
"It wasn't until I was older and wiser that I realised I needed something more secure."
Before joining the Army, Luke spent 18 months living and working on dairy farms in New Zealand.
When he returned to Queensland he spent the following three years working in the abattoir KR Darling Downs.
"I did short stints on the kill floor, the boning room, fresh meat packing, and inedible offal," he said.
"After three years I thought, no, I'm done, I can't do this anymore.
"That's when I thought about joining the Army."
12 years later and Luke, now a transport driver with the rank of Corporal in the Australian Army, has just returned from his third overseas deployment, his second to Afghanistan.
In 2015, Luke deployed to Kandahar and Kabul as a member of the Force Protection Element, driving the Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle (PMV) and Mack trucks.
He said that despite the risks, the opportunity to drive on the open road in cities like Kabul and Kandahar has been rewarding.
"Most people in the military spend their time in training and on exercises," he said.
"I feel like it's a privilege to be able to do my job in real-time."
Luke first deployed to Uruzgan province, Afghanistan in 2012.
As a Transport Manager he supervised maintenance for a fleet of PMV's, Mack trucks and 20-tonne trailers, including servicing, equipment and cargo.
"It was our job to resupply the forward operating bases with food, water, firewood; anything they wanted we would try to get it to them," he said.
Luke admitted that although the tempo of driving has been higher in 2015, the threats were greater in 2012.
"We were targeted by insurgents using improvised explosive devises (IED).
"We had the engineers out the front and they did a fantastic job of finding the IEDs and disabling them in place."
Luke said the highlight of his most recent deployment is being able to see the change that's slowly being affected.
"We provide the transportation and force protection for Australian Defence Force mentors as they conduct their meetings and provide advice to their Afghan counterparts," he said.
"It's a good feeling being able to drive in to an Afghan National Army barracks and lower our weapons.
"We wave at people and they wave back and we share a lot of mutual respect."
Australian Defence Force personnel are deployed across Afghanistan in a variety of roles on Operation Highroad, Australia's contribution to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
Resolute Support is focused on training, advising and assisting the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and Afghan security institutions at the operational, institutional and ministerial levels.