Dean Williamson has worked in the Australian Regular Army for just over seven years and knows all too well about the tough and gruelling conditions of the job.
“During my time in the 5th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment we battled casualties, whether it was members shot, blasted injuries and vehicle accidents. However, in Australia the unit suffered deaths by suicides, car and motorbike accidents and training accidents,” Mr Williamson said.
Each year on November 11, Australians observe one minute’s silence at 11 am in memory of those who died, suffered or fought in all wars and armed conflicts.
“Remembrance Day to me is a day where I remember everyone that has sacrificed themselves for others in one way or another,” Mr Williamson said.
Growing up in Collie, Mr Williamson said he joined the army in infantry when he was just 19 years old.
“As a child, it was my dream job and I just didn’t know what else I would like to do for a career,” he said.
After submitting his application he said he went through thorough testing to see if he was capable of doing the job.
“I had to complete a phone interview, an aptitude test and a physical test. After completing all of that I had to go to Perth where I had an interview with an army officer, a psychologist. I proceeded on to do a final medical test and after passing that I pledged my allegiance and was ready to go,” he said.
Shortly after pledging he was sent to Kapooka, New South Wales for 80 days where he was put through the paces of Basic Soldier Training.
“It’s where they mould you to become a soldier. I found it a little hard to adjust to army life being from a small town and being on the other side of the country. It was also a little hard to fit in at first,” Mr Williamson said.
Shortly after his group of 30 were sent to do their Initial Employment Training for three months to become an infantryman at 5/7 Royal Australian Regiment, which is an infantry battalion in Darwin.
“It was physically and mentally hard but it had to prepare you for anything. Out of the group of 30 we lost around six that just weren’t cut out for it,” Mr Williamson said.
After completing his training he was placed in the 5/7 RAR and in December 2006 they broke and he was put in 5 RAR, which he was fortunate enough to deploy overseas with.
The following year he deployed to Iraq as an infantryman gunner, mainly vehicle mount operations in a personal carrier Australian Light Armoured Vehicle.
“Our main role over there was the hearts and minds of the locals and secondary was to disrupt enemy freedom of movement,” he said.
Though it was meant to be a six-month deployment it was cut short for Mr Williamson. At the two month point, he was the rear gunner with his torso hanging out of an ASLAV when it rolled.
“I luckily only received minor injuries with a cracked shoulder blade and heavily bruised my face, on initial scans they thought I broke my shoulder blade so they sent me home,” he said.
“It was one of the hardest times in my career, not the injury but being sent home early and that everyone I knew was still over there. I felt alone. After three long months of recovery, I was almost back to normal.”
Two years later he deployed to East Timor for nine months as an infantryman gunner and rover driver, where their main rolls were peacekeeping and engaging and supporting the locals.
“We would patrol out by foot or in vehicles to different villages to interact with the locals. The people were polite and humble, we used to play a lot of games with the kids. Most of the guys and I would buy big bags of hard-boiled lollies and hand them out to the kids,” he said.
In early 2010 he was sent to Singapore for Rifle Company Butterworth for three months where he conducted jungle training which he said really tested his fitness.
Towards the end of 2010, he was deployed to Afghanistan for nine months as a rifleman and spent most of his time in a patrol base in the Mirabad Valley, where up to 30 Australians and around 40 Afghan soldiers were housed.
“Our main role there was to mentor the Afghan army, so they could stabilise their country in our absence. We achieved that by patrolling out on foot with the Afghan army searching for the Taliban, finding their weapons and ammo caches, improvised explosive devices and components and engaging with the locals,” he said.
“My main role was an electronic countermeasure carrier, which meant I was at the front or back, to position myself to best protect the patrol against some IEDs. The engineers would clear our path and search with metal detectors, we would protect them and were the main fighting force.
“On an almost daily occurrence on patrol, we would find caches, IEDs and get shot at. It was hard to identify the enemy as one day they’re farmers and the next they would be shooting at you. Every day we rotated, one group patrols, one group is on base security and another group is resting on base duties, like cooking and cleaning.
“Afghanistan was definitely my hardest but most memorable deployment. The threat was always there, not just from the Taliban and IEDs, but the Afghan army too. We had incidents with them where it was sometimes hard to trust them.”
Mr Williamson said the living conditions were very hard, but as he expected.
“Sleeping on stretchers cramped into protected shelters. There were weeks where we ran out of water for showering and the toilets, so we had to use 500ml bottled water to shower once every three days to a week so we didn’t run out of drinking water.
“When the toilet water ran out we had to poo into drums and burn it in the afternoon. We also burnt our rubbish in the afternoon so we didn’t attract wild animals. Most of our supplies came by chopper weekly because it was faster and less risk than road convoys due to the threat.
“The locals went about their daily lives, almost ignoring us. Most of the men would work in the fields or tend to their herds, the women stayed at home cooking or collecting water.
“During the deployment, we lost three members, two engineers, one to an IED and one in our valley who got shot with machine gun fire from the Taliban. We also lost a cook, who was coming off base security and was shot down by an Afghan soldier, who then fled.”
Three months after coming home from Afghanistan he left the army and was ready for a change, only to re-enlist in February 2016.
Today he is based in Townsville where he works as a transport driver and is a private by choice.
“My goal coming back in was to aim to get more out of the army this time, with licences and qualifications. I now drive a mixture of vehicles,” Mr Williamson said.
Although the job has “its ups and downs and stressful times” he said it could be rewarding.
“It’s like a mixture of a big family, being at school and being on a sports team,” he said.