After four million vehicle checks at points on the NSW-Victoria border, Joint Task Unit 629.1.3 finished its part in Operation COVID-19 Assist on October 30.

More than 1200 ADF members from Army, Navy and Air Force – including reservists – served for a combined total of 41,000 ADF days at 20 checkpoints on the border operation.

They deployed to points stretching from the sea to the desert.

Joint Task Unit 629.1.3 was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Andrew White, who said the task force was set up within days.

“I received a call from my command on Monday, July 6, telling me the NSW-Victoria border was being shut and I was asked if I could lead the operation to help police operate the check points,” he said.

“I arrived in Albury two days later with my leadership team.

“Within a matter of days, we had deployed hundreds of personnel alongside NSW police officers.”

The operation was made up of five companies: Navy, Air Force, regular Army infantry, the Army Logistics Training Centre (ALTC) and Army Reserve.

Major Bruce Murfin, of the ALTC’s Army School of Health, who headed up the Joint Task Unit’s A Company out of Albury, said the operation was a challenging time.

“We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” he said.

“The rules were changing by the hour, and many personnel hadn’t worked in this kind of environment, supporting civilian law enforcement before.”

The conditions were tough, too, with some areas of the operation recording their biggest snowfalls in 10 years.

But Lieutenant Colonel White said the warm, welcoming nature of the local communities made a big difference to the ADF personnel.

He said the kindness shown by residents along the border was completely unexpected.

“Our members received gifts of food, snacks, thank-you cards and banners, and even firewood to keep us warm on those bitterly cold nights,” he said.

“The gifts were a heartfelt gesture and deeply appreciated by all of us.”

The overall commander of Operation COVID-19 Assist in NSW, Brigadier Mick Garraway, paid tribute to all involved.

“The success of this operation is not only due to the capability and leadership of our defence force personnel, it’s also due to the strong, positive relationships we’ve built with NSW Police and the local community,” he said.

“I want to express my appreciation to all involved.”