After twice seeing the Middle East from HMAS Adelaide, a sailor has taken to the skies for a different perspective of the region aboard a RAAF E-7A Wedgetail aircraft as part of Operation OKRA.
Petty Officer Peter Gillam, a surveillance and control officer, works on board a Wedgetail directing aircraft in the international campaign to combat the ISIL terrorist threat in Iraq.
“We’re responsible for directing assets around the battle space safely and efficiently,” he said.
“That’s aircraft such as tankers, UAVs and fighters, if it’s in our battle space we need to have awareness of where it is.”
The Wedgetail is Air Force’s early warning and control aircraft, boasting state-of-the-art systems that keep the crew in contact with planes, ships and land elements.
“We’re the tactical command and control element responsible for battle-space management,” Petty Officer Gillam said.
“It’s about getting the right assets into the right airspace on time.
“Apart from Australians, we will be in communication with other countries’ planes, primarily from the US but also many other coalition aircraft.”
Petty Officer Gillam and the crew direct aircraft on missions, re-task them if circumstances change and maintain aircraft separation.
“You’ve got to really concentrate, it’s a big airspace and there are a lot of planes but the more you do it, things become a little bit easier,” he said.
Soaring above the desert is a massive change from Petty Officer Gillam’s previous Middle East deployments in Adelaide in 2001-02 and 2004-05.
“It’s a whole new game thousands of feet up,” he said.
“On the ship you’re at sea 24 hours.
“Here you fly and it’s intense for eight to 12 hours and you get to wind down. You start planning for another mission then rinse and repeat.
“It really takes it out of you, they’re big days.”
Petty Officer Gillam was posted to Air Force’s 2SQN in July 2012 after serving as a combat systems officer.
“The Air Force guys are very similar to Navy in a lot of ways,” he said.
“They’re all officers which is a bit different but they’re a good bunch and they like to remind me all the time that I am from Navy.”
OP OKRA is the ADF’s contribution to the international effort to combat the ISIL terrorist threat in Iraq.
Australia’s contribution is being closely coordinated with the Iraqi government, Gulf nations and a broad coalition of international partners.
Around 600 ADF personnel have deployed to the Middle East in support of the operation.