Australian Army personnel from 1st Psychology Unit lowered the unit flag for the last time on November 19, signalling the beginning of Army’s plan to reorganise health capabilities into a single point of expertise: the formation of the 2nd Health Brigade in 2023.

Harnessing the capacity of the Total Workforce System, 2nd Health Brigade will progressively integrate the health capabilities from 2nd Division and 17th Sustainment Brigade during 2022.

Leaving behind a 58-year legacy, the unit’s closure is the beginning of a structural change to integrate psychological capabilities into four multi-function health battalions that will be formed in early 2022.

This change will lead to a strengthening of the investment in preventative mental health initiatives.

With its lineage dating to the Army Psychology Service of 1942, 1st Psychology Unit was raised in March 1963. Soon after, the unit deployed psych advisers in support of SASR, and conducted a range of command support activities for the headquarters of Australian forces in Vietnam.

In every theatre since then, 1st Psychology Unit has deployed psych support teams, and for the past 21 years, has been continuously deployed on operations, from INTERFET in 1999 to the more recent Operations Bushfire Assist and Accordion.

Commanding Officer of 1st Psychology Unit, Lieutenant Colonel Jacqueline Costello, said that on a daily basis, the unit had the privilege of supporting the men and women it served alongside.

“Our people capability is skilled, trusted as specialists and will always be in high demand,” Lieutenant Colonel Costello said.

“We have always served with purpose and we will transition with the same mission focus and commitment to our service.”

Sergeant Justin Donnelly has been a psych examiner for nearly a decade and said it had been an honour to serve with 1st Psychology Unit.

“I will miss the unique opportunities it has provided me,” Sergeant Donnelly said.

“From being able to connect with individuals across the ADF at all ranks and build enduring relationships, to providing a shoulder to lean on during a tough time, or on the range and pushing physical limits to enhance mental agility – I have been very privileged to work with the 1st Psychology Unit.”

Commanding Officer of 1st Psychology Unit, Lieutenant Colonel Jacqueline Costello, is handed the unit flag after it was lowered and folded at Victoria Barracks in Sydney. Photo: Private Jack Brook

The broader changes to Army Health will build on the legacy of 1st Psychology Unit. This will include providing greater access to preventative mental health care through a multidisciplinary team construct for Army commanders and personnel at the point of need – on exercises, operations and in garrison.

As part of the changes, the psych examiner employment category will go through a phased transition, which will see the trade cease in January 2026.

The tasks performed by the current psych examiners will progressively transition to the medical techician workforce.

Corporal Bradley Truran was the last 1st Psychology Unit examiner to support ADF operations. His deployment included taking on a range of tasks alongside his core skills, including COVID-19 contact tracing, and assisting in the establishment of evacuee camps.

“Deploying as an examiner was something I thought I would never achieve, let alone being the final examiner to deploy on operations,” Corporal Truran said.

“I am honoured to have been chosen to fulfil this role and have done my utmost to uphold the values of the Australian Army Psychology Corps.

“I am very grateful to the CO, Lieutenant Colonel Costello, for having confidence and allowing me to be the final examiner to fly the flag for both 1st Psychology Unit and for my trade on operations.”

Commander of 17th Sustainment Brigade, Brigadier Craig Dobson, acknowledged the selfless and exemplary commitment of 1st Psychology Unit.

“The unit has a remarkable history of service supporting ADF personnel at home and on operations. It has energetically supported commanders with critical-incident management and the development of high-performing teams,” Brigadier Dobson said.

“As significantly, 1st Psychology Unit personnel have inspired us all to keep our mates safe and compassionately support those in need.

“I thank all the past and current unit personnel for their exceptional and highly professional commitment to 1st Psychology Unit, the brigade and to Army.”