HMAS Adelaide sailed into Sydney Harbour on February 2, marking the completion of a significant recovery operation in Fiji following the devastation caused by Cylone Yasa on December 20.
On board was Penrith infantryman turned medic Corporal Ben Maddaford, of the 1st Close Health Battalion in Brisbane, who provided medical support to 6th Engineer Support Regiment personnel reconstructing the local primary school on Galoa Island in the north of Fiji.
“I conducted daily COVID-19 temperature checks, monitored the wet bulb temperature and provided advice to commanders in regards to work/rest regulations to limit the risk of an injury,” he said.
“I was also there for any injuries or illnesses you’d normally see a doctor for.”
Corporal Maddaford said his medical support on Operation Fiji Assist was similar to what he did in Australia, but the island location provided new challenges.
“Instead of bringing all our equipment, we had to carefully plan what assets the soldiers on the ground might need,” he said.
“Everything had to be brought to the island on boats and then walked ashore so we could only carry a limited amount of medical equipment and supplies.”
He said it was a good feeling to be part of the team rebuilding the school, but there was also an unexpected connection to the place.
“Usually when you deploy it’s easy to focus on the work because there aren’t reminders of your family,” he said.
“But when I walked into the kindergarten at Galoa and saw all the kids toys, it really hit home that I was missing Christmas with my wife and my three-year-old daughter.”
Although it was difficult being away from his family, Corporal Maddaford said the hard work was worth it.
“Seeing the school finished and knowing we’re leaving something behind for the locals is really special.”