From Tooraweenah to Kabul

Published on LEUT Andrew Ragless (author), CPL Oliver Carter (photographer)

Location(s): Kabul, Afghanistan

Topic(s): Operation RESOLUTE, Operation HIGHROAD

Lieutenant April Betts is deployed as Staff Officer to the Commander, Task Group Afghanistan based at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. (photo: CPL Oliver Carter)
Lieutenant April Betts is deployed as Staff Officer to the Commander, Task Group Afghanistan based at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Sandwiched in the middle of her four sisters from the tiny New South Wales community of Tooraweenah, Lieutenant April Betts likes to joke about having middle-child syndrome.
While the down-to-earth 23-year old does not cry out for attention, she does have a penchant for the extra-ordinary. It’s a deep-seated passion that has seen Lieutenant Betts travel far from family and friends to some of the most remote and diverse corners of the globe.
Now a Maritime Warfare Officer in the Royal Australian Navy, April has sailed to Hawaii, Singapore, New Zealand and circumnavigated Australia. She has taken the controls of HMAS Perth, one of the navy’s most sophisticated warships, and test-fired the Anti-Ship Missile Defence system, including the launch of the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, against multiple sea-skimming and supersonic targets in the Pacific Ocean.
Despite describing these adventures as ‘career highlights’, Lieutenant Betts claims she has ‘no idea’ why she chose the navy.
“I just wanted to do something completely different,” she said.
“And I wanted to put some letters in front of my name, but I’m not smart enough to be a doctor."
She completed boarding school at the New England Girls' School in Armidale, where she competed in the Tildesley tennis competition. Upon graduating she applied to be an architect but narrowly missed the entrance score.
“I enrolled in a Sports Science degree instead but decided to defer for a year,” she said.
“It was then that I considered the Navy Gap Year program or joining full time as a Boatswains Mate.
“In the end, I joined as a Maritime Warfare Officer, and I’ve never looked back.”
Lieutenant Betts graduated from the Navy’s cutting-edge bridge simulator training facility at HMAS Watson in Watsons Bay, Sydney, and said the simulator expedited the learning process.
“We covered off on so much more than would be possible at sea,” she said.
“The simulator meant that we could make mistakes, reassess, reset and carry on.
“It certainly helped with my confidence, especially when I finally took the ‘con’ in Perth for the first time, conducting officer of the watch manoeuvres and replenishments at sea with more than 150 souls on board.”
In 2015, Lieutenant Betts deployed to Afghanistan to take on a whole new challenge as the Staff Officer to Commander - Task Group Afghanistan, based at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. It meant adapting to a busy, dynamic, multi-national operating environment.
Approximately 250 Australian Defence Force personnel are deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation HIGH ROAD, Australia’s contribution to the NATO-led RESOLUTE SUPPORT mission, which is focused on training, advising and assisting the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and Afghan security institutions at the operational, institutional and ministerial levels.
April said one of the best parts about her job is the travel.
“I really love flying in helicopters and seeing Kabul from the air,” she said.
“It’s the best way to get to work.
“But I am also very privileged to travel with the Commander, which means I get to see the big picture and the full effect of what we’re achieving here.”
In the past two years, members of the Australian Defence Force have been central to the success of the Afghan National Army Officers Academy near Kabul, providing mentoring and force protection to advise and assist the Academy’s Afghan instructors as part of a five-nation, British-led task force based at Camp Qargha.
“I can remember the first time travelling out there, dressed in full body armour, watching the Afghan recruits conduct a field exercise,” she said.
“The Afghan officer cadets were so excited to see an Australian Brigadier General in his Slouch hat with plumes.
“I was impressed with how strong and fit the cadets are, and how determined they are to be there.”
The academy recently marked its fourth graduation since the inaugural term commenced in October 2013, with the total number of graduates now exceeding 1,000.
“We are getting feedback that Afghan National Army units from all over the country are requesting graduates, because the cadets are so well trained and they can confidently take the fight to the enemy,” she said.
“They want what we have in part helped to produce.”
Lieutenant Betts said that although she’ll miss the team at Task Group Afghanistan, she’s looking forward to spending Christmas with her parents and four sisters on the family property.
“Just to get back to a bit of normalcy and being able to cook my own food,” she said.
“It’s cruel when I get a Taste magazine delivered here from home and see all this beautiful food that I can’t cook up myself.”
Shortly after her return to Australia, Lieutenant Betts will commence the Executive Officers' Designate Course before relocating to Darwin to fulfil the role of Executive Officer in Armidale class patrol boat HMAS Glenelg.
“I can’t wait,” she said.
“I’ve already got a plan in my head exactly how I want to train my Junior Officers.
“The best part about my job is absolutely the people.
“I had a fantastic Divisional Officer when I went through my officer’s training at HMAS Creswell.
“I was a quiet person, with barely a back-bone, and he gave me a shot.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him, and I want to do the same for others.”