When physical training instructor Sergeant David Wood joined the Army in 2011 he never imagined he would spend nine weeks travelling the country in an AFL umpiring ‘bubble’ as an AFL Boundary Umpire.
Based in Sydney, Sergeant Wood normally umpires Sydney Swans or GWS Giants games. However, in mid-June, COVID-19 restrictions changed all that and the AFL asked him to travel to Melbourne.
The following nine weeks involved nine different games, six hotel rooms, seven flights and countless bus rides as the AFL moved games around COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.
Commenting on Sergeant Wood’s flexibility and resilience, ADF Aussie Rules chair Brigadier Dave Smith said it was a testament to the ADF’s commitment to people development that personnel are given opportunities to excel in both their ADF careers and in an elite sports environment.
“There are many similarities between elite sports and ADF service. Sergeant Wood’s unit will reap the rewards of the new skills he has learned and experience he has gained working with the AFL,” Brigadier Smith said.
“His hard work and dedication in both careers are a fantastic representation of what we value in our football and ADF communities.”
Sergeant Wood said he was impressed with the team at the AFL.
“It’s absolutely amazing what the AFL can do in such a short space of time,” Sergeant Wood said.
“As umpires, we just see the results, not the huge amount of work that must go on behind the scenes. Aaron Nunn and the team at the AFL did an amazing job.”
Growing up on the Gold Coast, Sergeant Wood dabbled in a range of ball sports before settling on AFL, where he found he had a natural talent for umpiring.
After joining the Army, he took a short break from AFL, but recommenced in 2017 with the North East Australian Football League. He progressed rapidly and umpired the grand final in 2018 and 2019. He commenced his first AFL contract in 2020.
Commenting on his season, Sergeant Wood thanked superior officers Lieutenant Colonel Bradley Heskett and Major Daniel Hayes for their support.
“They were able to provide flexibility at short notice, which meant I could work remotely and deliver on my work requirements while also pursuing a career at an elite level,” Sergeant Wood said.
“Being able to travel to the MCG, Marvel Stadium, Optus Stadium and GMHBA Stadium has been an adventure.
“I’m really grateful for the support of my wife who also managed to travel with us after quarantining in the Northern Territory, courtesy of the AFL.”
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said he valued the great relationship and many values shared with the ADF.
“We are extremely grateful for the support of the ADF Aussie Rules in ensuring that Defence personnel can play, umpire, coach and administer in our game at various levels,” he said.
“I also want to thank David and all of our AFL and AFLW umpires across the year for the flexibility and agility they have shown through the COVID-19 pandemic. Their commitment to the game in leaving home for extended periods ensured our games could continue for supporters, including those across the ADF.”
The ADF Aussie Rules Association is responsible for governing Aussie Rules within the ADF, ensuring it is administered, coached, umpired and played in a way that enhances ADF capability. There are currently a broad range of serving ADF members working within the AFL and various clubs as players, coaches and umpires.