BRISBANE-based army engineers have returned from cyclone-ravaged Fiji after a crucial role in the humanitarian and recovery effort operation, Fiji Assist.
More than 200 engineers from the Australian Army 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment (2CER) have completed a six-week deployment during which they helped rebuild entire, battered communities.
According to the regiment’s chaplain Jesuit Father Bryan Pipins, the Fiji mission was an example of reaching out to a neighbour in need.
“(It’s) helping in a very practical sense,” Fr Pipins, a former army captain, who transferred to 2CER in January, said.
He remained in Brisbane during the operation, but praised his new regiment’s achievement in Fiji.
“Helping is part of the strong ethos of army engineers. Yes, I am achieving. Yes I am doing something important – whether it is building a school or repairing a clinic,” Fr Pipins said.
“And for their family at home, there’s the knowledge that their soldier is away from them, but doing a worthwhile job.”
Three engineer troops from 2CER were sent aboard HMAS Canberra to Koro Island, one of the worst-hit by Cyclone Winston when it swept through Fiji on February 20, killing more than 40 people and flattening communities.
With 90 per cent of Koro Island’s buildings destroyed, Fijian authorities quickly identified the repair of community buildings such as schools and community shelters as a key priority beyond immediate life-saving humanitarian relief.
2CER engineers started by repairing the island’s only secondary school located in Nasau village.
They then spread out to Koro Island’s smaller villages, working with Fijian soldiers to restore many schools and community buildings until more permanent structures can be put in place.
HMAS Canberra, which was stationed off the coast of Koro Island, transported the engineer troops, construction materials and plant equipment to the island via amphibious vehicles and MRH-90 helicopters.
A recent resupply of materials has ensured the engineers can continue supporting the Fiji Government and Fijian military engineers in their efforts to help villagers begin to recover.
“It was a brilliant use of assets,” Fr Pipins said.
“And working with local people in their community makes a soldier feel loved.
“Whether it is a full deployment, or a six-week deployment, it is always a strain on families, and being able to point to this type of work is knowing that you can go in and change a life.”
By Mark Bowling