It was volunteering with his Pop and seeing the work of the ADF clearing out flood-damaged homes during the 2011 Queensland floods that inspired Leading Aircraftman Clay Brown to join Air Force.
A plant operator for No. 65 Squadron in Townsville, Leading Aircraftman Brown and his 850J Dozer are currently working with Army’s 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment to construct a 70km firebreak in the Bondo State Forest near Tumut for Forestry Corporation of NSW.
They will be joined by an additional plant operators and their heavy machinery from No. 65 Squadron in Townsville.
The firebreak is being constructed adjacent to a fire trail in the Bondo State Forest in the hope that it will help protect the nearby pine plantation.
Depending on the terrain, the team are able to clear roughly 1km per day.
“Some of it’s flat but most of it is either up or down and some patches have big boulders that are hard to push over, as well as some large trees.” Leading Aircraftman Brown said.
“We started on Sunday 12 January and it feels like slow progress until you look back and realise how far you’ve actually gone.”
"To be a part of this operation is just amazing and it’s rewarding to assist the selfless volunteers who are out fighting fires."
Prior to joining the Air Force in 2012, Leading Aircraftman Brown was a concrete labourer, working with his uncle as well as in mines in Dalby and Chinchilla, west of Brisbane.
He grew up in Wynnum and Manly in Brisbane's southern bayside and originally applied to be an Air Force carpenter before being offered a plant operator role.
LAC Brown said it was the feeling of helping out the community and emergency services during a time of need that drove his choice to join the ADF.
“That’s what got my attention - the disaster relief work and humanitarian aid that the ADF provides.”
Leading Aircraftman Brown was unable able to help his own local community in Townsville when the city and surrounding areas flooded in early 2019 due to training commitments.
One year later, the phone call to pack his bags and get ready to support Operation Bushfire Assist came as a surprise.
“I thought they were joking - I was on leave in Townsville, watching all the damage the fires caused and wishing there was something I could do to help,” he said.
“To be a part of this operation is just amazing and it’s rewarding to assist the selfless volunteers who are out fighting fires.
“I’m definitely happy with how things turned out for me, career wise.
“As a kid, I loved playing with Tonka trucks and diggers in the sand. It’s every boy’s dream to be able to drive the big ones.”
Leaving his wife and two kids at home so he can support Operation Bushfire Assist, he said the supportive families in the background don’t always receive the recognition they deserved.
“The firies, Defence personnel, all the partner organisations, they’re all doing a really great job, but let’s not forget about the families back home” he said.
“They’re all doing it tough as well as they’re missing their loved ones who are helping out the regions in need and there are plenty of people in those fire effected areas who have felt the impact of these bushfires.”